LITERARY CLUTTER: Bookish bloggings from the cluttered mind and bookshelf of Melbourne author, George Ivanoff. George is the author of the YOU CHOOSE books, the OTHER WORLDS series, the RFDS Adventures and the GAMERS trilogy.
The Hitch Hikers sci-fi comedy franchise (for want of a better word) by Douglas Adams is instantly recognisable and much loved. Beginning as a radio series in 1978, it has gone on to become books, further radios series, a television series and a film. My relationship with it is somewhat patchy.
“The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.”
As a kid, I only ever caught a couple of the radio eps. I liked them. They were weird and different. When the television series came out in 1981, I watched and loved it. I then read the first couple of books. I remember loving the first but being a little disappointed with the second… and never getting around to the rest. I certainly didn’t care for the 2005 film.
I had always meant to catch up with the rest of the books. So I recently decided to reread the first two and then, at long last, read the rest.
The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was published in 1979. It holds up so very well. Truly deserving of the title modern classic. The humour is spot on, the plot is great and the quirky cast of characters are a joy. I really do think it is the perfect blend of comedy and science fiction. There are so many bonkers, out-there concepts… from the translating Babel Fish to the Infinite Improbability Drive used to power the Heart of Gold spaceship. And Adams’s commentary on the human condition, religion, politics, everything, is also pretty spot on.
“And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, one girl sitting on her own in a small café in Rickmansworth suddenly realised what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.”
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe was published in 1980. Although I enjoyed it, I found it far inferior to the first book. The humour felt less inventive and a little bit tired. The plot and characters still managed to carry me through, but with less of the page-turning intensity of the first.
Life, the Universe and Everything was published in 1982. This is… well… there’s no nice way to say it. It’s a steaming pile of crap! The plot is confused and almost unfollowable. The humour is forced… so badly forced. It was a real slog making it through this book… so much so, that I couldn’t bring myself to read any more in the series.
There is another book, And Another Thing… (2009), but it was written by Eoin Colfer, of Artemis Fowl fame.
I own the first four books in an omnibus edition, The Hitch Hiker’s Guide of the Galaxy: A Trilogy in Four Parts, which was published 1986. Even though I’m unlikely to ever read that fourth instalment, I will treasure this lovely hardcover edition. When Adams toured Australia to promote his book, Last Chance to See, back in the late 80s, I heard him speak at a literary lunch and was lucky enough to get him to autograph my copy.
Does anyone out there like book 3? Does anyone out there think that books 4 and 5 are worth reading? I’m open to being persuaded.
Perfect World and Beast World are the first two books in my new series, OTHER WORLDS. Aimed at children eight and up, they are about kids who find mysterious keys that open doorways into other worlds – thrilling adventures follow. For more info, check out my previous blog post. But now, here’s your chance to win a signed copy of one of these books…
How? Simply send an email with “OTHER WORLDS comp” in the subject line to [email protected]
The giveaway closes at 5pm (Melb time) on Friday 27 April 2018, after which I will randomly draw two winners, each of whom will get one signed book.
You must be an Australian resident with an Australian postal address to enter, and you can only enter once.
The winner will be contacted by email, as well as being listed in the comments section of this post. No correspondence on the matter will be entered into. Got that? Good! Now… go and enter. 🙂
A perfect world full of identical clones. Steampunk London inhabited by well-dressed, talking animals. Robots and humans fighting a war in virtual reality. A seemingly ordinary world threatened by a mysterious darkness. To discover these worlds, all you need is a key to open a doorway. This is the setup for my new series of sci-fi/fantasy books for kids – OTHER WORLDS.
I’ve been a long-time fan of portal fiction – stories that, through the use of a portal, transport ordinary people into extraordinary worlds. These worlds are sometimes similar to our own, with key points of divergence, sometime bizarrely different. Books like CS Lewis’s Narnia series or His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, and television shows like Sliders, have taken audiences on splendid adventures between worlds. Now, finally, I get the chance to play with portals and other worlds.
The first two books in the OTHER WORLDS series, Perfect World and Beast World, were released in March this year. The next two books, Game World and Dark World, will be published at the end of May. If these four books do well enough, then there is the potential for further books in the series.
So what goes in to writing a kids’ series like this? There is a lot of thought and planning, beyond the actual plot.
The biggest consideration was what actually constitutes a series? The books in my previous series You Choose, were linked by format rather than the story. Each book had a completely different plot, covering a range of different genres, about completely different characters. What made the books a series, is that they were all interactive and written in second person (like the old Choose Your Own Adventure novels and the Pick-a-path books). I enjoyed the freedom of playing with different genres and having individual stories, and I wanted to retain some of this freedom for the new series.
This time around, I wanted a story link… but not too much. Not all kids are going to be interested in reading every book in a series. For this reason, I wanted to give each book the ability to be read on its own and still be understood. I also wanted to give each book an individual feel. So I decided that each one would feature a new set of characters and a completely different world. Perfect World is straight science fiction with a serious message about our own world. Beast World is steampunk fantasy. Game World is adventure sci-fi. Dark World mixes science fiction and fantasy with a dash of horror. But every story begins with a kid finding a key that opens a doorway into another world. So there is a pattern to the books, which gives the sense of being part of a greater whole, but individual stories so that each book can be read on its own.
But I wanted a little more to link the books… to provide some sort of reward for those readers who did read all the books. So in each one there is an epilogue, separate from the main story, to tantalise readers with a mystery that doesn’t get solved until the fourth book.
It was important for me to write a series that would appeal to both girls and boys. In addition to making sure there was a balance of male and female characters in each book, I decided to alternate the gender of the main POV character from book to book; with the secondary character being the opposite gender. So each book has a prominent boy character and a prominent girl character. This also ensured that there were both male and female characters on each cover.
While I was aiming for these books to be thrilling adventure stories, I also wanted some depth. I wanted to touch on subjects that were meaningful to me. The importance of individuality and diversity, and the need to be who you really are, are themes that run through these stories, sometimes in the background, sometimes a little more overtly. There are also themes of co-operation, of not judging others and of the importance of ethics in science.
Most importantly, I wanted these books to be fast-paced and fun, and perhaps a little bit quirky. I’m an odd person. My mind is constantly whirling with bizarre ideas and idiosyncratic images. I like putting these into my books. So… Reject clones living in a massive pile of trash called The Dumping Ground. A vegetarian tiger plotting treason. A robot boy who’s forgotten that he’s a robot. A zombie struggling to learn how to make a good cup of coffee. These are just some of the weird things you’ll find in the OTHER WORLDS books.
And if you happen to be a Doctor Who fan (I happen to be a HUGE fan)… there is a hidden reference in each one of the books. 🙂
I think I’ve put more of my interests, more of my hopes and beliefs, more of myself into this series than anything else I’ve ever written. I’m hoping that readers will enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.
Catch ya later, George
PS. Keep an eye on the Boomerang Books Blog for your chance to win signed copies of Perfect World and Beast World.
I’m a little late with this… but, better late than never. The year of 2017 was rather busy for me and while I didn’t do much blogging, I did a lot of reading. I may not have managed to keep up with all the new releases that I wanted to read (I still have a few key ones on my to-be-read stack), but I did get around to enough of them to do my annual top reads list.
So here goes…
I didn’t read all that many picture books this year. Both my kids have out-grown them. I keep telling them that you’re never too old to enjoy picture books, and I hope that one day they will return to them. But for the moment… I’m just reading them myself. So I’m not reading as many as I used to. My favourite for 2017 is…
I defy anyone to read this book and not tear up. It’s about a young girl and her dad, the Fit-It Man of the title. He can fix anything and everything, and she relies on him to do so. Until… Mum dies. And things are not so easy to fix anymore. This is not a situation Dad can repair on his own. It’s going to take the two of them together. This is such a lovely book, that says so much, even with pages where there are no words. Dimity Powell weaves this story with grace and gentleness, supported by gorgeous, whimsical illustrations from Nicky Johnston.
I write kids’ books. So I read a lot of kids’ books. And I have a clear favourite for 2017…
This is the sixth and final book in the amazing DragonKeeper series. Full of adventure and heart, fantasy and history, it is an absolute joy. Tao, former novice monk and now DragonKeeper, and his dragon Kai complete their journey of discover begun two books earlier. I read it with mixed emotions. I loved it, but was so sad that there will be no more in the series.
Teenage ghost hunters in Melbourne! Quirky, charming, exciting and utterly delightful, it is a perfect balance of character interplay and engrossing story. I adore the Melbourne setting, which had me going “Oh, I know where that is” almost every chapter. It is thoroughly contemporary and yet manages an old-school charm as well. I love Pryor’s take on what ghosts are – it makes them kinda sad, but also really frightening when necessary. I feel there is so much potential in the characters to go further. I’m desperately hoping there will be more books about Anton, Rani and the other ghost hunters.
This book weaves together the Commedia dell’Arte form of thearte, bits of history and fantasy into one of the most original ideas I’ve seen in a long time. Mina has an amazing talent for storytelling, which means so much more than she realises. Leaving her small town, she sets off with a troupe of travelling actors in the hope of finding her missing brother, who left with a similar troupe ten years earlier. Ahead of her, is adventure and intrigue as she discovers that her storytelling ability can lead her to the amazing realm of Tarya. I am so looking forward to the remaining books in this trilogy.
Luke Miggs lives in Ulah, a small town that loves its football. When the mysterious Adam Pride literally walks out of the night to join the local team, everything changes. Ambitions are kindled. Dreams are chased. Choices are questioned. And the past is revealed. This book is not just about football. It’s about small-town life (its ups and its downs). It’s also about friendship and choices and racism… and the past refusing to stay buried. Vivid characters, and an intriguing story, make this an absolutely gripping read.
I don’t read a huge number of grown-up books. I tend to be VERY choosy and stick with books from writers I’m friends with, writers whose work I know and love, and books recommended to me by people whose opinions I value. Also, keep in mind that Just Another Week in Suburbia by Lez Zig (alternate name for Lazaros Zigomanis, author of Pride) is still on my to-be-read stack. Having said that, I have a very clear favourite for 2017…
Call it a short novel or a novella or whatever you want… I call it brilliant! It is tense, imaginative, edge or your seat stuff that is hard to put down. Without giving away too much… it’s about a man whose wife goes missing. She simply doesn’t come home from book club one night. Not willing to leave things to the police, he investigates and discovers that it was no ordinary book club that his wife belonged to. I love the way Baxter reveals the characters’ twisted back-story, then weaves it into the main plot of the club and disappearance. I read this is 2017, and it’s still buzzing around in my head a month in to 2018.
As a writer of educational books, I read a lot of non-fiction for research. But I also read a bit off my own bat. Interestingly, I didn’t read anything that was published in 2017… it was all older. So, my favourite non-fic book written prior to 2017 but read in 2017 is…
This is a book of interviews with and photographs of transgendered young people. It’s very common for people to dismiss or ridicule or fear or even hate people who are different. Books like this promote understanding. And once you understand the difference, and understand that people who are different are still people, and that they have hopes and fears and dreams just like you… well, it gets hard to dismiss or ridicule or fear or hate. And that’s why this book (and others like it) are so important. Quite apart from that, this book is also a really fascinating insight into the lives of six interesting and diverse people. This is the sort of book that really should be on the shelves of every high school library.
I love short stories, but for some reason didn’t actually read all that many of them in 2017. But out of the collected works I did read, this is my favourite…
This book is the result of the #LoveOzYA movement and features some of this country’s best YA writers. Such a variety of styles and genres and topics… and every story in this anthology is a gem. My personal favourites are Lili Wilkinson’s hauntingly beautiful tale of drain exploration, “Oona Undergraound”; and Gabrielle Tozer’s bus trip story of the past being revealed and understood, “The Feeling From Over Here”.
OVER ALL FAVOURITE
Very difficult decision, but I’m going with Alan Baxter’s The Book Club. As I said, it’s still vivid in my memory. And even now, I can feel my heart begin to race and a niggle of panic at the back of my mind as I recall those first moments when the main character realises that his wife is missing.
A big part of my writing life revolves around speaking about writing. In 2017 I did 161 individual sessions that included festivals, school visits, library visits and promotional tours. You can read about some on my experiences in these blog posts:
Get set for some 70s retro comic book bizarreness, as Jaime Sommers from The Bionic Woman television series meets the 1977 small-screen version of Wonder Woman. It’s a completely oddball concept… and yet, it works!
I think you need to be a fan of these two shows, or 70s genre television in general, to really get this graphic novel. If you are, then there is so much gold hidden within these pages. References to past eps of both shows abound, as a bunch of previously encountered villains band together to wreak havoc. Only the two most heroic ladies of the 1970s can save the world, along with some assistance from the Office of Scientific Intelligence, the Inter Agency Defence Command and the inhabitants of Paradise Island.
For me, the big thrill was the return of the Fembots. I loved watching these menacing robots as a kid in the 70s. They featured in 5 bionic eps (including the epic “Kill Oscar” crossover of The Bionic Woman and The Six Million Dollar Man), so it was great to see them back in action in the pages of this book.
There are also other wonderful pop-culture references. My favourite being a direct nod to Superman: The Movie. As Jaime rescues a woman from a burning building, jumping several stories to the ground, she says “Hold on tight, Ma’am. I’ve got you.” To which the woman replies, “You’ve got me? Who’s got…” 🙂
But my favourite line from the whole book is when Jaime says to Wonder Woman…
“A costume change now? Seriously?”
Of course, this sort of comic needs some completely OTT action sequences. And top billing goes to Wonder Woman lassoing a missile.
Comics are, of course, known for their text-based sound effects, from the ordinary BANG! and BLAM! through to the more creative BIFFO!, KA-POW! and many, many more. But this one also gives us the iconic bionic sound of DEENEENEENEEE. It made me smile every time. And I love the way Wonder Woman’s famous costume-change twirl is represented in pictures.
This graphic novel certainly isn’t for everyone, but if you remember 70s television with any fondness, then you’ll probably find Wonder Woman ’77 Meets The Bionic Woman a bit of a nostalgic gem.
I’ve got a footy-themed kids book hitting the shelves tomorrow. So I thought now would be a good time to share with you some of my favourite Aussie Rules Football books, presented here in order of audience, from youngest to oldest.
This is An Aussie Rules Alphabet Book. And it’s an absolute, fun-filled, riveting read for footy fans and keen kids. The text is clever and fun and full of awesome alliteration. The story is filled with joy and diversity and fun footy feats. The illustrations are colourful and dynamic and appealing. This book is the perfect way to get footy obsessed youngsters into reading. Dare I say it? This book kicks some great literary goals! 🙂
This is a young adult novel about two footy-playing teenagers in a small Australian town. They are from different backgrounds, but they share a common dream — to play in the AFL. This book is great if you’re a footy fan. But you don’t have to be. It is about so much more than football. It’s about friendship and family, prejudice and small-town life. But most of all, it is about the importance of chasing your dreams. If you’re not into football, then this book might help to give you an appreciation of the game. The writing is straightforward and accessible, and you really get into the heads of two boys. It’s an uplifting, motivating, feel-good book.
Pride, by Lazaros Zigomanis
(2017, Busybird Publishing)
And I’ve saved the best for last. This is an extraordinary book. The lead character is eighteen, so I guess this could be considered upper-end ‘young adult’ or ‘new adult’… but I reckon it’s the sort of book that knows no boundaries (see what I did there 🙂 ). It could be read by younger teens. It certainly could be read by adults. There is lots of footy action, so it would be great for readers who are seriously into their football. But it’s also written in such a way as to not alienate those of us who are not as au fait with the rules and subtleties of the game.
Luke Miggs lives in Ulah, a small town that loves its football. He’s a member of the local footy team, who mostly just play for fun. But when the mysterious Adam Pride literally walks out of the night to join the team, everything changes. Ambitions are kindled. Dreams are chased. Choices are questioned. And the past is revealed. Although this book is about football, it’s also about friendship and choices and racism… and the past refusing to stay buried.
Lazaros writes with confidence and assurance. He knows his footy. He knows small-town life. He knows how to spin a good yarn. This book is filled with vivid characters, and small-town detail. The story is intriguing and gripping, each individual footy match as exciting and engrossing as the overall mystery that binds the story.
Definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year.
Finally, I’ll finish up with a little about my own footy book – You Choose AFL: Footy Fever. This is the thirteenth title in my series of interactive books for kids. I’m REALLY EXCITED about it, not least because it is officially endorsed by the AFL… which means I was able to use real teams and real players within its pages. Very cool! And it hits the shops tomorrow – Monday 28 August 2017.
2016! What a year! Many people view it as one of the worst in recent history, with the death of numerous influential celebrities and some worldwide political craziness. And in a lot of ways, it certainly was. But, personally, on the book front, it was a pretty awesome year for me. I read some damn fine novels. And I had a few books published. So here is my literary take on the year that was.
It was a good year of reading for me. I read lots of stuff for research, lots of stuff to my daughters and lots of stuff for my own pleasure. So here is my list of favourite 2016 reads…
The second of the Victorian-set Stella Montgomery Intrigues, it follows on from Withering-by-Sea (2014). I loved the first book, but I like this one even better. I can only hope there will be more in this series.
This is the second book in the epic, game-changing Illuminae Files series. Using a dossier of documents, rather than the traditional novel narrative, these books are mind-blowingly amazing. Loved the first book (read my review in 2 Awesome YA Books). Dare I say it… I loved this one even more. It maintains the approach of the first, but extends it, adding extracts from an illustrated journal into the mix. There is a whole bunch of new characters, as well as some returning from the first book. There’s not much more I can say, except… Wow! Just… WOW!
Favourite Grown-up Book
Okay, I’ll be honest here… I hardly read any grown-up books in 2016. I mostly read stuff for kids and teens. But there are two books that really stood out.
This one was actually published in 2015 (I was just a little late in getting around to it). This is a memoir rather than an autobiography, by one of Australia’s best loved and most respected children’s authors. It’s an excellent read for anyone interested in the behind-the-scenes of a writing career. It’s also wonderfully personal and engaging. Loved it!
And then there was this book from 2009 (okay, so I was a lot late with this one)…
A hard-edged, fast-paced techno-thriller with terrorists, bio-weapons, zombies and a special ops government agency called The Department of Military Sciences. It’s the first book in a series, which follows the adventures of Joe Ledger – a cop who goes to work for The Department of Military Sciences. I’ll definitely be reading the rest of the series.
Hand in hand with the writing, was speaking about writing – school visits, library talks and festival appearances. I had a total of 116 sessions over the course of 35 school visits, 7 festivals/seminars/conferences and 2 promo tours. You can read about some of my favourite experiences in these blog posts:
Words and pictures can be so much more powerful together than apart. Comics, graphic novels, picture books, illustrated novels. So many possibilities.
As a writer, I love art. I love handing over my words to see what an illustrator will do with them. I had my first picture book published in October this year – Meet… the Flying Doctors. It was illustrated by Ben Wood, who did such a wonderful job. Each and every double-page spread is a stunning work of art worthy of gallery exhibition. I feel extremely lucky and privileged to have these illustrations inside a book with my name on it.
Books 11 and 12 in my YOU CHOOSE series of interactive stories will hit the shelves on 3 January 2017. The covers and internal illustrations for this series are by the talented James Hart. Even after twelve books he still manages to impress and surprise me with his dynamic covers. The success of these books is in no small part due to the fact that James’s art grabs casual book browsers and screams “PICK ME UP”!
As a reader, I love art. There are so many wonderful works out there. Here are a few I’ve read recently…
An extraordinary graphic novel for kids in glorious black and white. A musical prodigy is a prisoner of his talent, until a young thief helps him escape. What follows is a magical journey of discovery. This book won a 2016 Queensland Premier’s Literary Award and was shortlisted for both the CBCA Book of the Year and the Crichton Award for New Illustrators. It certainly deserves all the accolades.
Who would have thought grammar could be fun? It certainly is with this book. What is remarkable, is how Riddle uses a combination of words and pictures to make even the most complex oddities of grammar quite simple and understandable. This book would be great for kids who are struggling with grammar. But it’s also a pretty wonderful book for grown-ups who want to brush up on their gerunds, reflexive pronouns and superlative adjectives. But is this book GREAT? GREATER? GREATEST?
These Victorian-set Stella Montgomery Intrigues are magical! A young orphan girl, raised by her three ghastly aunts (Aunt Temperance, Aunt Condolence and Aunt Deliverance) finds herself caught up in all manner of supernatural events. These books are beautifully written and illustrated with a light, old-fashioned touch. They are hard to put down as they transport you into the past and plunge you into their mysterious intrigues.
Kids have been going nuts for the Treehouse books ever since they hit the shelves… and I’ve been meaning to get around to reading one of them for ages. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Well, I can certainly see why kids love them so much. This book is so RANDOM. It’s full of MAD, BONKERS FUN! The words and pictures working seamlessly together. Loved it!
The writer behind the rather awesome zombie apocalypse re-imagining of Archie and his fellow Riverdale residents in Afterlife With Archie (see my review) now sets his sights on Sabrina. Set in the 1960s, it takes a rather dark and gruesome approach to the story. Perhaps not as immediately engaging as the Archie graphic novel, this one takes a while to warm up… but once it does, it’s pretty damn good. Another comic book character, Madam Satan, is also re-imagined and woven into the story.
Wow! This has got to be one of the best superhero comics I’ve read in ages. Bold, dark and relentless, it looks at what might happen if superheros decided that they knew what was best for the human race, and that the ends justified the means. Will have to seek out the rest of this series.
Well, that’s it from me for 2016. See you all in the New Year.
I’m a bit of a pop culture junkie. So I tend to read a fair few books that are tied in to other media – film, television, games. Mostly Doctor Who, as this is my particular area of obsession. This year I’ve read less than I normally would. But here are a few that I’ve really liked.
Looks like we’re getting a new series of interactive Doctor Who books. Yay! BBC Books tried this a few years ago with the Decide Your Destiny series. I only read a couple of those and found them a little disappointing. Night of the Kraken is the first book in the new Choose The Future series, and it’s showing a great deal more promise. Rather than putting the reader into the story with a second person narrative (which is what the previous series did), this book is in third person with the reader making decisions on behalf of the Doctor. It works well and moves at a good pace. Not all the plot strands fit together neatly and I found too many of them being a bit same-ish, but overall it was a fun read. More please!
This is the first in a series of spin-off books about Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart from Doctor Who, prior to him being promoted to Brigadier and put in charge of U.N.I.T. (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce). Set immediately after the events of the television story “The Web of Fear”, L-S must deal with his own past as well as the Great Intelligence making another invasion attempt. So the Yeti are back! This is an excellent start to the series. There is a wonderful sense of time and place, a great build up and pretty much perfect characterisation. The plot gets a little muddy towards the end, but not enough to prevent this book from being a wonderful read for Doctor Who fans.
The second book in the series doesn’t get off to as great a start as the first. I found the style a bit hard to get in to. But once I got used to it, the story hooked me in and I really enjoyed it. This story again involves L-S’s past, this time with some time travel to get the plot moving. I’m looking forward to reading more in this series.
Fans of The X-Files rejoice! This is a glorious set of anthologies, with stories set in a range of time periods – from before the series, to each of the seasons, and beyond. Not all the stories were to my taste, but they were all well-written and well thought out. No stinkers in these collections. And I’m sorry, but I can’t help bragging a little here… I have a story in Vol.3. – “An Eye For an Eye”. I’m very proud of it and super excited to be included alongside so many famous writers. My story was recently reviewed on THE X CAST blog, and I am thrilled with getting such a great review that picks up on all the things I was trying to achieve with the story.
I never really read the comic books, but I loved the Guardians of the Galaxy film… and since I knew the author and liked his work, I thought I’d give this book a go. I’m so glad that I did! This is a fun, fast-paced, rollicking adventure, but with a good sense of character. It’s funny and exciting. Although focussing on Star-Lord Peter Quill, each of the team gets relevant time in the plot and moments in which to shine. I particularly loved Gamora’s sub-plot as protector of a monastery. And the ending! It’s an explanation I could easily imagine in an ep of Doctor Who (which is high praise in my book). This is not some quick cash-in on a hot property… it’s a quality read!
I’ve got a really tall to-be-read stack for 2017, and a good chunk of those book are tie-ins. Looking forward to reading them… and telling you all about them.
I love anthologies – books collecting together short stories from numerous authors. I love them as a reader. And I love them as a writer. Anthologies have a lot of things going for them…
Anthologies make great tasters. They are a wonderful way of trying out a whole batch of authors without having to commit to an entire novel. Then, when you click with the style of a particular author, you can go on to read their longer works.
Anthologies are great for reluctant readers. Bite-sized chunks are not as daunting as a massive tome. A person can read one story, rather than having to read an entire book. And a short story, finished off quickly, can give a reluctant reader a wonderful feeling of satisfaction… perhaps encouraging her/him to read some more.
Anthologies are great for time-poor readers. You can read individual stories in short bursts as time permits. Dip in and out of the book without losing track.
Anthologies make great presents. (Hey! Isn’t Christmas just around the corner?) Not sure of the recipient’s taste in authors? Then a book with multiple authors is the perfect solution.
I’ve got stories in three kids’ anthologies that have been released in the last few months. Each of these books also has tales from heaps of other great kids’ authors. Check these out…
A Toy Christmas [edited by Sophie Masson]
Now this is a perfect book for Christmas gift giving. Thirteen stories about the most magical time of year. It’s got everything from Santa Claus to nativity toys, from dragons to Christmas puddings… and even a story about the Jewish celebration of Chanukah. There are stories from Natalie Jane Prior, Kathy Creamer, Fiona McDonald, Michael Grey, Goldie Alexander, Rebecca Fung, Meredith Costain, Anna Bell, Ian Irvine, Juliet Marillier, Beattie Alvarez and David Allan. They are a wonderful bunch of tales, but my two favourites are, without a doubt, Michael Grey’s “An Unexpected Gift”, which defies gender stereotyping in a beautifully heart-felt story; and Goldie Alexander’s “ Avi and the Chanukah Surprise”, which shows how not all people celebrate Christmas.
And finally, I’d like to finish up by mentioning a book that I am looking forward to with much excitement…
As the end of the year approaches and I desperately attempt to catch up on telling you about what I’ve been reading, may I present another bunch of mini-reviews…
Grimsdon (2010) and New City (2014) by Deborah Abila
Is it possible for a book to be both a dystopian sci-fi and a charming kids’ story? These two tales certainly manage it. Plus they throw in some environmental messages. A captivating read about kids in a flooded city after an environmental disaster, and their subsequent move to a new city as refugees.
An intriguing YA dystopian novel. Interesting characters and world, but the story is a bit disjointed and oddly paced. I enjoyed it, but it didn’t quite gel for me. It’s one of those books that I really wanted to love more than I actually did.
Ten linked short stories that are fast-paced and EXCITING! Suspense, danger and action are the driving forces here. I love the concept of linked story collections like this. You get the immediacy of short fiction with the bigger picture of longer fiction, all in one book.
This is the first book in the popular Joe Ledger series, about a cop who goes to work for a special ops government agency, The Department of Military Sciences. This is a hard-edged, fast-paced techno-thriller about terrorists using a bio-weapon that turns people into zombies. Ledger is a wonderfully engaging character and Maberry is a master of this genre. The rest of the series is lined up on my to-be-read pile.
A nice story about a young boy and his newly acquired pet cat. Below this surface story are family relationships and the experiences of starting at a new school. All handled with quite a lovely old fashioned touch.
Mad, bonkers fun! During a zombie apocalypse, with much brain-eating, Adam, James and Stacey run, hide, dispatch zombies and learn a little about themselves. A unique and innovative idea, this book is linked to an online course about using zombies as inspiration to be all you can be. Check it out!
This is the second-last book in Pryor’s wonderful, magical, engaging and totally awesome series set in an alternative history Edwardian period, where magic and science co-exist. I love then so much, I’ve been reading one book a year in order to try and make them last. I’ll read the final one next year.
Hazel Edwards, author of the famed picture book, There’s A Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake, has dipped into her own life story for this engaging memoir. It has a lovely conversational tone that makes you feel like you’re privy to a private chat rather than reading a book. Edwards doesn’t shy away from difficult topics, presenting a warts and all story. Loved it!
Fiction, especially children’s fiction, can do extraordinary things. It can often achieve outcomes that no amount of lecturing or shouting from rooftops can. It can be enlightening while also being entertaining. It can promote understanding while also telling a good story. And this is what Hijabi Girl does. It’s a good story about kids in a school. Like all kids they have their friendships and difficulties; they deal with teachers and teasing; they have their likes and dislikes. They are ordinary kids doing ordinary things. But one of them happens to be Vietnamese. And another is a Muslim girl who wears a hijab. The cultural differences among these kids are simply part of everyday life, along with all the other little differences between them. One character likes soccer, another likes drawing; one character is into princesses, another likes Aussie Rules footy; one character eats rice paper rolls, another eats only halal food; one character has a pet rat, the others don’t; one character wears a hijab, the others don’t. In the end, difference is not only accepted, but celebrated. As it should be in real life. More kids books like this please!
A small pile of review books arrived in the post today. I’m super busy with writing deadlines at the moment, so I went to put them aside… but a picture book caught my attention. I was familiar with the author, Adam Wallace, and the illustrator, Andrew Plant. So I thought I’d have a quick flick through it. After flipping through a few pages I simply couldn’t put it back down. I was compelled to read it, study it, go over each page in great detail, read it to my daughter… and then review it. Because I can’t not tell you (oh look… a double negative) about this extraordinary book straight away. What is it? I hear you all shout.
It is a book with the deceptively simple title of SPARK. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it before.
It’s a book about a bushfire. It’s told from the perspective of the fire. And to say anything more would be to give away the joy and surprise of reading it for the first time.
Adam is known for his no-holds-barred humour, but with Spark he demonstrates that he is equally adept at lyrical, playful and intense words. This book is beautifully written, the words leaping off the page, demanding to be read out loud.
We tore through forests. We flew over rivers. We razed homes. The clouds cried, but their tears sizzled off my back.
I am a HUGE fan of Andrew Plant’s work. He is an extraordinary illustrator and storyteller. Go take a look at his picture book, The Poppy. It’s one of my all-time favourite picture books. His illustrations for Spark are GORGEOUS! They live and breathe. They are soft and gentle, intense and ravenous, and captivatingly striking.
This is such an amazing book, I just want to keep going. But I’m running out of superlatives here. I would like to highly recommend that you all (whether you have kids or not… because a great picture book is not just for children) rush out and buy this book straight away… but it doesn’t get released until October. But you can go and order it! I really think you should.
Last year I picked up and read a copy of Afterlife with Archie. It was unexpected, surprisingly intelligent and utterly BRILLIANT! And it reminded me of how I loved reading Archie comics as a kid. So I hopped online and ordered a selection of Archie graphic novels. Did they meet my expectations? Were they all as brilliant as Afterlife with Archie? Read on and find out…
Afterlife with Archie Book 1: Escape From Riverdale (2014) by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla
This graphic novel is about the zombie apocalypse starting in Riverdale. I expected it to be a bit of diversionary fun – something amusing and silly. But what I got was something unexpectedly BRILLIANT! It’s dark and broody, intelligent and with a surprising amount of heart and pathos. The story takes the clichéd, caricature-ish inhabitants of Riverdale and turns them into real people – and then starts killing them off. There are genuinely brutal and disturbing scenes in this book – made more so by the fact that you feel like you know the people it’s happening to (after all, even if you haven’t read the Archie comics, the characters are such an ingrained part of popular culture). The artwork is stunning. Rather than the cartoony style of standard Archie comics, this one is dark, gritty and more realistic. If you only ever read one Archie graphic novel, make it this one!
Archie: The Man From R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E. (2011) by Tom Defalco and Fernando Ruiz
This is a cool little spy send-up. There is nothing particularly earth-shattering or game-changing about this book. In fact, it’s a bit on the clichéd side. The characters and the set-up of the Archie universe are not tampered with too much. But it is enjoyable. And there are lots of cute pop culture references. This book also includes a never before published story from the mid-1950s about Archie’s cousin Andy Andrews, in a cold-war story called “The Iron Curtain Caper”. The book is worth it for that alone.
Archie: Cyber Adventures (2011) by Stephen Oswald and Joe Staton
Silly but fun. Leave your brain at the door and it’s possible to enjoy this ridiculous story of Archie and the gang being sucked into the virtual world.
Archie Meets Kiss (2012) by Alex Segura and Dan Parent
OMG, this is awful! Any potential it may have had to be witty and silly fun is thrown out the window by the terrible plotting. It is so badly written that it is embarrassing. There is no nice way to say this – it is a cringe-worthy piece of CRAP!
Archie Marries… (2010) by Michael Uslan, Stan Goldberg and Bob Smith
Now this one is really interesting. Archie walks up Memory Lane (instead of down) and gets a glimpse of possible futures. It is a twin-storyline set in parallel timelines — in one Archie marries Veronica; in the other Betty. It takes a mature approach to the subject matter, while still retaining the fun you come to expect from the Archie comics. Well worth reading. I’ve got the lovely hardcover edition that’s presented in a slipcase with a cut-out heart.
I started with brilliance… and thankfully concluded with it as well…
The Death of Archie: A Life Celebrated (2014) by Paul Kupperberg, Pat Kennedy, Tim Kennedy and Fernando Ruiz
Wow! It takes the idyllic fantasy setting of all-American Riverdale and thrusts it into the real world. Yes (spoiler alert) Archie does DIE in this. But it’s not the fact that he dies that makes this book special… it is the way it is handled. It pulls no punches. It is very matter-of-fact about it. But it also gives Archie fans a chance to look back, as the residents of Riverdale grieve and remember him. Outstanding stuff.
So… what did I learn from all of this? That most Archie comics are probably fun but uninspiring. But that when an established pop culture icon is experimented with, extraordinary things can happen.
The story begun in volume one of Afterlife with Archie is continuing in single issues, and a second collected volume is due for release in Feb 2017. I’ll be getting it. I might also seek out a few of the other more unusual ones including the two weird cross-overs Archie vs Predator and Archie Meets Glee, and spinoff Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
Both of these books are quite extraordinary in the way they tell their stories. They play with the story-telling format and give us something quite unique.
I’m going to avoid plot spoilers, but I am going to talk about the structure of the books and the way the stories are framed. If that bothers you, better leave now. 🙂
Illuminae is science fiction, with elements of space opera, horror, action/adventure and healthy dose of teen romance. All bundled together in an unlikely way.
Kady and Ezra are teenagers living in a mining colony on far flung planet in the future. When their colony comes under attack they, and the other survivors, are forced to flee. Pursued through the depths of space by a rival mining company determined to wipe out all witness to the attack, they also have to deal with an insane computer, a horrifying contagion and their own feelings for each other.
Illuminae plays with narrative structure and with presentation. This book has a plot and characters that you get to know and care for, but it is not structured like a novel. Rather than a traditional narrative, be it first or third person, it is, instead, a dossier of hacked documents. Military files, personal emails, medical reports, interviews and other such things are compiled into a patchwork of storytelling with comments from the dossier compiler, the mysterious Illuminae of the title. So you get a range of perspectives. And added to all this are the thoughts of an artificial intelligence that is loosing its sanity. This book has words, lists, pictures and even word pictures. It is an extraordinary compilation of unexpected stuff.
Looking at it, I can’t help thinking that it shouldn’t work – that a bunch of mismatched documents couldn’t possibly draw you into a story, emotionally grasp you and make you feel for the characters. But it does. It does all these things with greater success than most standard novels. And it’s a page-turner!
As a bit of a pop culture junkie, I love the hidden references peppered throughout the novel. My favourite are the allusions to The Princess Bride.
I’ve heard some people grumble a little about the ending – not liking the ‘revelation’. But I think it’s perfect. It sets things up for the next book, Gemina. I’m now anticipating its release and wondering if this second (and third) book will maintain the same storytelling approach, or default to a standard narrative… or maybe even give us something completely different and unexpected.
I loved this book so much. I found it difficult to believe that I would read another book as good as this one any time soon. But the very next book I picked up was even better…
The Rest of Us Just Live Here plays with narrative structure and with story focus. It swaps the traditional focus – pulling the background characters into the foreground, while pushing the ‘chosen ones’ off to the sidelines. And tells the story in a very particular way.
Immortals are trying to break through to our world and invade. But a handful of teenagers stand in their way. This is not their story. This is the story of the other teens – the bystanders; the ones who are not in the know; the ones who are just trying to get along with their lives; the ones who just happen to live in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The big picture story is told only in the short chapter intros, before the more intense, personal stories of the bystanders is told within the chapters themselves.
“Chapter The First, in which the Messenger of the Immortals arrives in a surprising shape, looking for a permanent Vessel; and after being chased by her through the woods, indie kid Finn meets his final fate.”
The novel proper is about Mikey and his friends. They’re not special. They try not to get involved. They just want to make it through the everyday struggles of high school. But the weird goings on in their town keep getting in the way. You might think that a novel about people trying to avoid getting involved wouldn’t be interesting… but it is. Their problems, their relationships and their lives are deeply fascinating. The key to it all is that Ness creates such believable characters and tells a tale of friendship. They feel like real people.
One of the things that I love about this book, is the back-story of the town itself. The fact that weird things have happened in the past. And the fact that most people just ignore it all, pretending that everything is normal.
The Rest of Us Just Live Here is written in first person, present tense. I don’t usually like this approach, but it is very effective in this in case. It gives the story an immediacy and the reader an intimacy with the lead character. It allows us to get into his head and find out how he thinks. It is particularly striking in that Mikey has obsessive compulsive disorder, getting stuck in what he calls ‘loops’ — repeating patterns of activity that he finds increasingly difficult to break free of. Never before have I read anything that conveys the struggles of this condition quite so personally and effectively.
“I tap the four corners of my textbook again, counting silently in my head. And again. And one more time. I see Jared watching me but pretending not to.”
And then there’s Chapter 16. Fifteen pages of nothing but dialogue. Extraordinary!
There is so much depth in this book – layers of character and story. Without a doubt my top read of 2015. If ever I was in the uncomfortable position of having to choose my five favourite books (because no one should have to do that impossible task), this would be one of them.
If you read no other books this year, at least read Illuminae and The Rest of Us Just Live Here. You won’t regret it.
Okay, maybe a slightly misleading title. But hey, it got your attention, didn’t it! 🙂 A more accurate title would be “My very late 2015 wrap-up post, including a list of my favourite books from that year”. A bit cumbersome as far as titles go, which is why I went with the punchier, albeit less informative one. But enough about the naming of blog posts (who really cares), let’s look back on the year that was…
Despite the busyness of the year, I managed to do a fair bit of reading. Unfortunately I didn’t do all that much reviewing. Rather than trying to do one long review per blog post, I ended up doing posts with multiple shorter reviews so that I could cover more books. And I still didn’t manage to tell you about all the ones I read. My first couple of posts for this year will try to catch up on some of my favourites from 2015.
Which brings me to my list of favourites. Drum roll please!
Tough choice this year as I read some pretty amazing books. Honourable mention goes to Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. Epic, sweeping space opera with a healthy dose of romance that is extraordinary in the telling. (I will be reviewing it properly soon.) But top honours goes to The Rest of Us Just Life Here by Patrick Ness. This book is PERFECT! Perfect in plot, character and telling. (I’ll also review this one soon.)
Favourite Grown-up Book
Okay, this book was actually published in 2014, although I read it in 2015. But it was just too good not to include. Perfections by Kirstyn McDermott. I confess that I don’t read many grown-up books these days because, frankly, most of them end up boring me. But this one was brilliant!
Another tough category this year, as I read so many great titles. But my favourite would have to be Afterlife with Archie, in which the zombie apocalypse begins in Riverdale. Dramatic, sometimes funny, often brutal and surprisingly poignant. I promise to review this properly soon, along with all the other Archie titles it prompted me to go out and read.
Favourite Non-fiction book
I read LOTS of non-fiction for research, so I don’t pick up all that many as part of my down-time reading. But when one of my all-time favourite authors writes a non-fic book, how could I possibly pass it up? Atmospheric: The Burning Story of Climate Change by Carole Wilkinson is superb reading.
During 2015 I read A LOT of older books. Honourable mention goes to Watership Down by Richard Adams, THE undisputed classic of the anthropomorphised animals genre. But I am a Sherlock Holmes fanboy, so I’m afraid I just can’t go past Sir Arther Conan Doyle’s The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.
Without a doubt it is The Rest of Us Just Life Here by Patrick Ness. I love this book SO MUCH! Everyone, go out and read it RIGHT NOW! I mean it… RIGHT NOW! Waste no more time with delay… RIGHT NOW! Look… here’s a link so you can purchase it. Am I being too pushy? You know what? I don’t care! GO READ IT!
So there you go — 2015 in a nutshell. ‘Twas a great year for me in terms of reading and writing. And 2016 is already off to a grand start. I look forward to reviewing it in twelve months time… or maybe a bit longer if I’m slack. 😉
Three for the price of one! How’s that for a bargain? Oh wait… you’re not paying for this, are you? This blog is FREE to read. Okay, change of approach…
Continuing with my series of multi-review posts, pretty much seems to be the only way for me to keep up with telling you about the books that I’ve been reading. This time around, I’ve got three books of different genres and eras — mystery from the 1800s, anthropomorphised animals from the 1970s and humorous gothic storytelling from the 21st century.
I’ve been slowly working my way through a box set of Conan Doyle’s books about the greatest of all fictional detectives. This is the second collection of short stories.
These are such entertaining stories. Not all of them are great mysteries, but most of them are cracking good adventures. By this stage Conan Doyle has become very comfortable with the characters of Holmes and Watson and there isn’t too much variation (inconsistency) in their presentation.
This collection is most notable for its concluding story, “The Final Problem”. This is the story in which Conan Doyle famously kills off his creation. But don’t worry (WARNING: Spoiler!), he brings him back by popular demand later. 🙂
What is most interesting about reading this collection, is how the Holmes canon differs from my original expectations. Based on various film and television adaptations, I’ve always assumed that Sherlock’s brother Mycroft was a frequent supporting character and that Moriarty was a recurring villain. Both these assumptions are shattered. Mycroft is only in two stories thus far, and Moriarty first appears in the story in which he dies (Oh dear, more spoilers!).
The other thing I noticed is that Conan Doyle often doesn’t explain all of Holmes’s deductions. And, in “The Final Problem”, he doesn’t tell you anything about how Sherlock defeats Moriarty. All we get told is that it was a pretty brilliant plan. There is a reliance on reputation and past cleverness. But that story is more about the friendship between Holmes and Watson than about adventure or mystery… and as such, works admirably.
All up, it’s a great collection. Can’t wait to read to next book in the series.
[Read my review of A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four — Reading Sherlock]
Watership Down is a Carnegie Medal winning CLASSIC! I read this many years ago after visiting England and watching rabbits in a field one afternoon. This time around, I read it to my eldest daughter (12). I loved it all over again and got to see it afresh through her eyes.
The story is about a group of rabbits who break away from their warren after one of them has a premonition of doom. They travel across the English countryside in search of a location to establish a new warren, eventually settling on Watership Down. But even then there are problems to solve with the lack of does, and a threat from a dangerous rival warren called Efrafa.
The whole story (with the exception of one short section) is told from the rabbits’ pov. It is a remarkable book. It is not cute or twee. It is dramatic and exciting and emotional and, at times, quite violent. The animal characters are never anything but completely believable. The rabbit society is portrayed in intricate detail, with customs, history and mythology. The writing is mature, philosophical, subtle, complex and sometimes unexpected in its approach. The imagery is vivid and often disturbing, particularly the events at Efrafa, with their Nazi overtones. This is an outstanding book and an extraordinary read.
This is the third book in Riddell’s illustrated, humorous gothic fantasy series for kids (there is a fourth on the way). The series follows the adventures of Ada Goth, only child of Lord Goth of Ghastly-Gorm Hall. Her best friends include the plucky and intelligent Emily Cabbage and William Cabbage, the boy with chameleon-like abilities; both children of inventor Charles Cabbage. Ada’s governess, by the way, is a vampire named Lucy Borgia.
In this instalment, Ghastly Gorm Hall is hosting a literary dog show, while a strange creature lurks the halls chewing on the shoes of the Hall’s staff. As with the previous books, puns and name-play abound, with references both modern and classic. The writers entering the literary dog show include Plain Austen, author of Prompt and Prejudice and Northanger Cabbie; Sir Walter Splott, author of Drab Roy; William Timepeace Thackeray, author or Vanity Fete; and Homily Dickinson, author of Of What I Speak Thou Knowest Not. And then there are the judges Countess Pippi Shortstocking and Hands Christmas Andersen.
The illustrations are gorgeous. Loved every single one of them.
Whilst definitely amusing, this book is the weakest of the three so far. It seems to get carried away with the jokes and forgets about the plot until right at the end. The Wuthering Fright of the title barely even features in the story. Nevertheless, it is enjoyable and worth getting for the illustrations alone.
Okay… so you’ve all heard of the twelve days of Christmas. Right? Old hat! This is a literary blog, so I’m doing the twelve authors of Christmas instead. I’ve picked twelve of my favourite Aussie kids/teen authors and asked each of then a couple of festive bookish questions.
Question one: What book would you like to find under your Christmas tree this year?
Question two: Which one of your books do you most hope will find its way under other people’s trees?
Under her tree:
I would like to find the just released Maggie Smith: A Biography wrapped and hidden under my Christmas tree. Why — because I admire her greatly as an actress and Christmas time is almost the only time I get to read big people’s books.
Under other trees: Little Dog and the Christmas Wish — because of the honour of it being in the Myer windows this year, I want to think of all those children recognising it and imagining a Little Dog finding his way home on a long ago Christmas Eve.
Under her tree: The Evil Garden by Edward Gorey because I love his quirky imagination and wonderfully strange illustrations.
Under other trees: The Wishbird because fables are always good to read at Christmas time.
A big round of virtual applause for the twelve authors of Christmas. Lots of literary goodness for under the Christmas tree!
But wait… what about me? I’m an author too. And I love getting books for Christmas. But what book do I want? Lots of great suggestions from the authors above. Let me think. I’ve already got Illuminae (almost finished reading it) and Rich & Rare (I’m in that one!). I reckon I’d go for Hazel Edward’s Not Just a Piece of Cake: Being an Author… aside from the fact that I know there’s a pic of me with Hazel in it, I think Hazel is a fascinating person with such a rich and varied literary career that it’s bound to make great reading.
As for which book of mine I’d like to see under Christmas trees… I’d go for the second edition of my very first book, the YA short story collection Life, Death and Detention. No, there are no Christmas stories in it, but I have quite a soft spot for the book that started my career as an author.
I’ve been doing a lot of diverse reading. Comics. Novels. Short stories. Picture books. Fiction and non-fiction. Books for young kids, older kids, young adults and grown-ups. With this batch of mini-reviews, I thought I’d go for the four different age groups, with one review each. I’ll start with young kids and work my way up.
This is a really cute picture book about a young girl who would rather be a ninja than a ballerina. But Belinda is sent off to ballet class with her cousin Millie, where she spends her time doing headstands and cartwheels instead of jetés and pliés. When it comes to the end-of-term concert, the teacher comes up with the perfect way to utilise Belinda’s unique talents. This is a fun book with wonderful, colourful illustrations. Perfect bedtime reading. My six-year-old loved it!
The Warlock’s Child 4: Trial by Dragons by Paul Collins and Sean McMullen (2015) The Warlock’s Child 5: Voyage to Morticas by Paul Collins and Sean McMullen (2015) The Warlock’s Child 6: The Guardians by Paul Collins and Sean McMullen (2015)A few months ago I reviewed the first three books in The Warlock’s Child series by Paul Collins and Sean McMullen (see review) — a serialised fantasy for older kids. The concluding books have now been released, and I’m pleased to say that they have lived up to my expectations. Each of them keeps the story rolling along at a cracking pace. There is so much adventure and action, magic and intrigue, that you can hardly find the time to catch your breath. And dragons! There are lots of really cool dragons. It’s such an engaging story, told in an accessible and entertaining way. Although the final book concludes the story, it certainly leaves room for more. I can only hope that these sell well enough to warrant further books in the series.
This is a contemporary, humorous, young adult novel that is not quite a romance. In fact, I’m not 100% how to categorise it… which is good thing. I love a book that defies categorisation. Given that Wilkinson is known for her romcoms (Love-shy, The (Not Quite) Perfect Boyfriend and most recently Green Valentine), I guess I was expecting a traditional sort of comedy romance. Instead, I got a delightfully surprising read that I can’t quite explain. Ava, who is in a lesbian relationship at the start of the novel, has started to question her sexuality, her identity and how she fits into the world. So begins a journey of self-discovery for her. It’s a wonderfully character-driven story. The characters are the centre and the strength of this novel. They are weird and flawed and not always likeable and sometimes cringingly embarrassing. But they feel real. You can’t help but identify with them, and feel for them and hope that they will find happiness.
This is a dark, unnerving, grown-up fairytale, beautifully written and emotionally complex. The central fairytale element is the ability to magically create a ‘perfection’ — a human being; a life from nothing. Of course, there’s always a cost. And it is the cost and consequences that form the structure of the story. But at the core of the story, are relationships — intriguing, familiar, wonderful, necessary, loving, dysfunctional, toxic relationships. It was a surprising read, the story never quite going in the directions I expected it to. I loved it!
Boomerang Books, Literary Clutter and Carole Wilkinson are giving you the change to win your very own copy of Atmospheric. How? Read on to find out.
To be in the draw to win a copy of Atmospheric, simply send an email with ATMOSPHERIC in the subject to [email protected]
Entries are open to Australian residents only. And only one entry per person.
Entries close at 5pm (Melb time) on Friday 16 October. The winner will be contacted by email as well as being announced in the comments section of this post. No correspondence on the matter will be entered into. Got that? Good!
So… start sending in those entries. In the mean time, here’s what people have been saying about the book…
“Young people will be the ones grappling with climate change. Atmospheric reminds them they are key to the solution.”
Amanda McKenzie, CEO, Climate Council
“Atmospheric is an insightful piece of multimodal non-fiction which really makes you think twice about the environment around us and how we care for it. This is a book which is both easy to read and yet deeply informative about not only the history and science of our atmosphere, but the far reaching effects of climate change and how it may impact on us further in the future.”
Genie in a Book (read the full review)
Atmospheric has also been getting rave reviews on Goodreads. Here are some comments…
“Wow… this may be the most important book you read.”
“The history of climate change in a thoroughly engaging and accessible book for everyone aged 10 to 100.”
Carole Wilkinson is an Australian author equally comfortable in the realms of fiction and non-fiction. The things that link her diverse books are passion and research. Carole chooses topics that she has a keen interest in, and then researches the hell out of them. Her latest book for kids is a non-fiction book about climate change — Atmospheric: The Burning Story of Climate Change. As part of her Atmospheric blog tour, Carole has written a Literary Clutter guest post about the writing of this book. Take it away, Carole…
The story behind Atmospheric By Carole Wilkinson
I’ve tried to do the right thing environmentally, ever since the state of the environment first became an issue way back in the 1970s. But as time passed, I realised that climate change was not just a theory, but a real threat that was going to affect all of us. I decided that I needed to do more, and so I joined my local climate action group, Yarra Climate Action Now.
Someone recently asked me what it was like being in the glamorous world of climate action. Glamorous? There is nothing glamorous about it. Previously, most of what I had done for the climate was from the comfort of my own home (separating out the recycling, switching off lights, yelling at politicians on the television). Once I joined YCAN that changed. I found my self sitting through long council meetings that went till midnight; standing on the steps of Parliament House waving a placard in the rain; asking people in the street to sign a petition, only to have them tell me how stupid they thought I was. Nothing glamorous about that.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. It was great to meet other people who were as keen, if not keener, to stop climate change as I was. And we have been involved in some successful campaigns, particularly in the inner suburbs of Melbourne, where cycling has increased because of lobbying for a better network of bicycle paths, the local council has embraced people growing veggies in the streets, and plans to build a polluting freeway instead of new public transport have been stopped.
It was only a matter of time until my two main interests, climate action and writing, intersected. When my publisher suggested I write about climate change, I immediately said yes.
I’ve written other non-fiction books, but this one was different. At first I thought the book would be about the current climate situation and what we have to do to fix it. But the more I thought about it, the more it became clear that, as with my other non-fiction books, it couldn’t be just a list of facts. I had to tell a story.
Black Snake tells the story of Ned Kelly’s short 26-year life. Fromelles tells the story of a World War I battle that lasted less than twenty-four hours. This book would have to be the story of climate change. And what a story it turned out to be, spanning 300 million years!
I like research. I like it a lot. But this book was the biggest research task of my life. Bigger even than my obsessive research about dragons. That was a leisurely meander through the archives over a ten-year period. I had to research and write Atmospheric in a year and a half.
And then there was all that science I had to get my head around. I couldn’t explain all the scientific stuff behind climate change until I understood it all myself. Fortunately, I’d done science at school, and before I was a writer, I spent 15 years working as a laboratory assistant. So I’m not scared of science. For the first time, that part of my life didn’t seem completely disconnected from my writing life. It gave me the confidence to tackle the science and interpret it for a young audience that might find it a bit daunting.
I’m back writing about dragons again now (Dragonkeeper 6). After Atmospheric, it seems like a holiday!
The Deep is thrilling sci-fi adventure. The Deep is something the whole family can enjoy. The Deep is a series of comic books collected into two wonderful volumes. And The Deep is an upcoming animated television series. The Deep is something well worth checking out.
These comics follow the adventures of the Nektons, a family of under water explorers aboard a sophisticated submarine, The Aronnax. The parents, William and Kaiko lead their two kids, teenaged Fontaine and her younger brother Antaeus, on a tour of the ocean’s depths as they investigate mysterious aquatic incidents.
In Here Be Dragons, the family go to investigate the appearance of a sea monster. In The Vanishing Island, they go in search of an island that has somehow survived a tidal wave and mysteriously shifted location. And through it all is their desire to search for the fabled lost continent of Atlantis.
These are great adventure stories. There is enough action and sense of wonder to keep younger readers enthralled. But there’s also an intelligence to the plotlines and a depth to the characters to keep older readers satisfied. The stories have an unashamedly environmental vibe to them, without ever being preachy. Through it all is a wonderful, gentle sense of humour and lovely sense of family. It’s pretty much the perfect all-ages comic book.
And I’ve gotta say, I was laughing out loud through the whole spelunking conversation. You’ll know it when you get to it.
“You don’t love spelunking. You don’t like exploring caves. You just love saying the word ‘SPELUNKING’.”
Brouwer’s artwork is stunning. Crisp and vibrant, it submerges the reader in the oceanic depths along with the Nektons, and practically jumps off the page.
I’m not at all surprised that The Deep has been picked up for a television adaptation. I was lucky enough to see the trailer for it at a recent convention and I can say that it looks AWESOME!
But before the TV show hits the screens, I highly recommend you all check out the comics.
Isobelle Carmody — it’s a name synonymous with fantasy and science fiction for young people in Australia. She is a much respected and avidly read author. She first hit it big in 1987 with the publication of Obernewtyn, first book in the Obernewtyn Chronicles. And finally, at long last, that series will conclude with the publication of The Red Queen in November this year. Fans have been eagerly looking forward to this for a long time. Given the imminent publication, I thought now would be a good time to reflect on some of her writing.
The Obernewtyn Chonicles is the series she is best known for. Set in a post apocalyptic world, it follows the adventures of Elspeth Gordie, a girl with some extraordinary mental abilities. Elspeth’s adventures have spanned the course of six books so far…
What many people don’t know is that Carmody wrote a prequel novelette a few years ago. “The Journey” was published in the excellent short story anthology Trust Me Too (and I’m not saying it’s excellent just because I’ve got a story in there too).
And while we’re on the subject of Carmody and anthologies… she also wrote the introduction to Trust Me, the precursor to Trust Me Too.
Carmody has written lots of other books aside from the Obernewtyn Chonicles. Many of then are still in print. Some are out of print. And some are coming back in new editions.
In June this year a new edition of Scatterlings hit the shelves. It was originally published in 1991, and has been out of print for a while. It’s great to see is back!
Scatterlings is about a girl named Merlin, who wakes from an accident. She doesn’t know who she is. She doesn’t know where she is. The world around her is unrecognisable — divided up between the Citizen Gods who live in a domed city, numerous clans who are controlled by the citizen gods and, of course, the Scatterings… the clanspeople who have run away to rebel. Perhaps most disconcerting of all is the fact that Merlin hears voices in her head.
The lead character knows very little at the start of the story. So the novel is a journey of discovery for her. And we, as readers, get to go along with it. And WOW, what a journey it is — full of mystery, amazing revelations, intriguing characters and intricate relationships.
This is the second of Carmody’s older books to be rereleased for a new generation of readers by Ford Street Publishing. Greylands, originally published in 1997, returned to bookstore shelves in 2012 (see my review). It’s wonderful to see these Carmody classics coming back into print, as the stories are timeless and well worth being discovered by new readers.
Of course, there are lots of other Isobelle Carmody books currently available. Perhaps now would be a good time to check them out…
So many books, so little time… to review them. So here I go again with a whole bunch of mini reviews.
Footy Dreaming by Michael Hyde (2015) This is a young adult novel about two footy-playing teenagers in a small Australian town. They are from different backgrounds, but they share a common dream — to play in the AFL. I’m not in the least bit a footy fan. But I loved this book. It is about so much more than football. It’s about friendship and family, prejudice and small-town life. But most of all, it is about the importance of chasing your dreams. Yes, there were a couple of passages dealing with game play that lost me momentarily… but it also managed to give me some appreciation of the game. The writing is straightforward and accessible, and you really get into the heads of two boys. And it’s an uplifting, feel-good book.
Henry Hoey Hobson by Christine Bongers (2010) This is a middle-grade novel about 12-year-old Henry, who finds himself the only boy in Year 7 at his new school, Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. He also isn’t Catholic, has no father and is finding it impossible to make friends. Add in some unusual new neighbours and a school swimming carnival, and you’ve got a really engaging read. It’s one of those delightfully perfect books, hitting all the right marks in terms of character, plot and emotion.
Holes by Louis Sachar (1998) I saw the film version a number of years ago and loved it. And I finally got around to the book. It’s a middle grade novel about a teenager sent to a boys’ juvenile detention centre, Camp Green Lake, for a crime he didn’t commit. It’s a remarkable book that is nothing like what you would expect it to be. Themes of destiny, coincidence, history, prejudice, family and friendship all mash up into this story told over several different time periods, with everything culminating at the end. It is unexpected and it is brilliant!
Small Steps by Louis Sachar (2006) This is a sort-of sequel to Holes, but is about two of the other boys from Camp Green Lake, rather than Stanley. Set two years later, it is more YA than middle grade, and more clearly about prejudice (dealing with both race and disability). But there are other themes in there too — friendship, love, honesty, pop music and celebrity. The violence towards the end was a bit of a shock… but that’s probably what it was there for. It’s a very different book from Holes, but equally unexpected and just as good.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne (2006) A middle grade novel about the young son of a Nazi who befriends a Jewish boy in a concentration camp. It is tense, unnerving, beautiful and heartbreaking. It is really interesting for its deliberate omission of certain terms, names and details. Quite an amazing novel, and although it is aimed at children, thus not directly confronting the brutality of the era, I defy anyone to read this and not be affected.
Goth Girl and the Fete Worse Than Death by Chris Riddell (2014) This is the sequel to Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse [See mini review]. It is a gorgeous illustrated kids novel, about Ada Goth, only child of Lord Goth of Ghastly Gorm. Ada must deal with secret agents, vampires, a lady’s maid with a secret, a fete and a bunch of celebrity chefs. Like the first book, it is full of bizarre characters, unlikely situations and wonderful literary and pop culture reference. Charming, witting and thoroughly engaging.
The Secret of the Fortune Wookie by Tom Angleberger (2012) This delightfully Star Wars-y kids’ novel is the third book in the Origami Yoda series. Star Wars obsessed Dwight, along with his wisdom-dispensing origami Yoda finger puppet, is suspended from school. With the help of an origami Wookie, his friends rally together to help get him back. I loved the first book (see review), but doubted the author’s ability to stretch this bizarre concept beyond it. I was wrong. Book 2 was just as good (see review), and so is book 3. Heaps of fun!
The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppet by Tom Angleberger (2013) Yep… this is book 4 in the Origami Yoda series. This time around the Star Wars obsessed kids and their origami finger puppets take on the school administration and the Department of Education in an endeavour to rid themselves of the new FunTime Education System — an insidious evil, designed to raise standardised test scores. Great fun, with a nice set-up for the next instalment (which I am very much looking forward to).
Doctor Who: Time Trips(2015) All eight novellas collected in this anthology were originally published as eBooks in 2014. They were then collected together with an added short story and released in a lovely hard cover edition in 2015. I had already read Trudi Canavan’s story, “Salt of the Earth”, as an eBook, and it is definitely a standout in the collection. It’s an interesting anthology, with stories from best selling authors Cecilia Ahern, Jake Arnott, Jenny T Colgan, Stella Duffy, Nick Harkaway, Joanne Harris and AL Kennedy. Every story, bar one, really hits the mark in terms of character and exciting adventure, often with an unusual perspective. Given the high quality of the stories, it’s odd to have one jump out as a poorly characterised and confused mess. Perhaps I simply missed the point of “The Bog Warrior”, but it just didn’t work for me as Doctor Who, or as a story in and of itself. Bar this one story, Time Trips is a great read.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1892) A while back I bought myself a box set of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books. Being pocket-sized hard covers, they have become my travel reading. [see review of A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four] This book is the first collection of Holmes short stories. They are a cracking good read — never dull; always zipping along at a wonderful pace. And they continue to surprise. Unlike in many of the adaptations, the Holmes in these stories doesn’t always know everything, and doesn’t always get things right. And occasionally the levels of violence also surprise. Reading this book was a pure joy.
I may have mentioned a few times on this blog that I’ve been writing a series of interactive kids books called You Choose. As I’ve been working on them, I’ve been reading other interactive books, to get a feel for what’s out there. Old ones and news ones. Adventurous ones and romantic ones. Good ones and… not so good ones.
The interactive book was made popular in the 1980s by the Choose Your Own Adventure series. These books put the reader into the stories and give choices along the way. I read heaps of them as a teenager. But there were so many, that there were also lots that I missed out on. So I’ve been seeking out old copies on eBay. I recently read these three…
Choose Your Own Adventure 12: Inside UFO 54-40 by Edward Packard, 1982
This is a much-discussed classic of the style. I never read it as a teen, and I’d been trying to track down a copy for quite a while. I finally got my hands on a reasonably priced second-hand one. It’s an intriguing read. The reader is kidnapped by aliens and kept prisoner aboard a UFO, from which s/he must try to escape. Written by Edward Packard, the originator of the series, it is typical of his books in the series, in that it is action/adventure based and meticulously plotted with lots of unexpected deviations. What makes this book stand out, is that the only way to reach the ultimate goal of finding Planet Ultima, is to cheat. There is a page on which you reach the planet — but no other page leads to it. The only way to get to it, it to flip through the book page-by-page until you find it (or I could just tell you that it’s… SPOILER ALERT… page 101). I imagine it would have been somewhat mind-blowing for young readers when it was first released!
Choose Your Own Adventure 101: Alien, Go Home by Seddon Johnson, 1990
A Soviet space shuttle crashes in the Yukon and you go out to investigate. Why has it crashed? Are there aliens on board? It’s an entertaining enough read, but the plotting isn’t as good as with Packard’s books. What’s interesting is Johnson’s attempts to inject some humour and character variation into the story. Unfortunately, it’s the unintentional humour that’s funnier — especially when you search for the Glory Hole gold mine.
Choose Your Own Adventure for Younger Readers 46: A Day With the Dinosaurs by Edward Packard, 1988
As you and a group of students search for dinosaur fossils, you discover a hole that sends you back in time to meet some live dinosaurs. This book is part of a series of Choose Your Own Adventure books for younger readers. The story is quite short and simple and, despite being written by Packard, has a rather simplistically structure, with not all that many choices along the way. In fact, there are only 6 choices, with all the other sections simply pointing you to another one.
Then there are the other interactive books I’ve recently read…
Pick-a-path: The Dandee Diamond Mystery by Jane O’Connor and Joyse Milton, 1982
Oh dear. Perhaps the poorest example of an interactive book I’ve ever read. The worst thing about it is that it includes a story cheat. In the story, you are searching for the Dandee Diamond. There is only one… but depending on the choices you make, you will find it in different locations. NOT FAIR! Your choices have not affected how the story progresses… your choices have simply led you to a different story in which the diamond is hidden in a different location. I really dislike this sort of structure. On the plus side, the illustrations by Daryl Cagle was quite engaging.
Cool School: You Make It Happen, John Marsden, 1995
Australian author John Marsden wrote a couple of You Make It Happen adventures in the 90s. In this one, it’s your first day at a new school, where you have to face bullies, secrets and potential romance. This is an interesting one. The attempts at romance are handled by giving a non-gender specific name to the object of your crush — Sam. A valiant attempt, but it struck me as being rather contrived. The other interesting thing is the types of choices you are given. Many of them are outside the context of the story — something I don’t care for, as I find it takes me out of the moment. At one point, as you are confronted by the bully, someone comes up behind you… and you are asked to choose if it’s a teacher or a student. Given that the reader is a character in the story, I prefer choices to be within the context of that story.
Choose Your Own Ever After: How to Get to Rio, by Julie Fison, 2014
Aimed at tween girls, Choose Your Own Ever After is a romance series. Not usually the sort of genre I read, but I’ve got to say that it’s well-wriiten, peopled with engaging characters, and gives the readers some good moral dilemmas. I liked it a lot. It’s interesting in that unlike most interactive books, this one isn’t written in second person and doesn’t put the reader into the story. The reader is making choices on behalf of the main character, in this case teenage schoolgirl Kitty MacLean. It works surprisingly well. The sections are a lot longer than the standard 1-4 pages before you’re given a choice. It’s usually a few chapters before you have to make a choice in this book. All up it’s a pretty good read. My only problem with it, is that all the resolutions are happy.
Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris, 2014
This is really bizarre. Actor Neil Patrick Harris has written his memoires in the interactive style of the Choose Your Own Adventure books. It’s in second person… and the reader is Neil. It’s a weird and wonderful way to read non-fiction as you work your way through the reality and the made-up bits, as well as the recipes, cocktails, magic tricks (yes, there are actually magic card tricks in this book) and even some guest chapters from the likes of Steven Bochco (creator of Dougie Howser, MD), actress Whoopi Goldberg and a few others. Uber cool, very entertaining, but ultimately, as a biography, it’s a bit unsatisfying. With a non-linear path through Harris’s life, where you are he, weaving through fiction as well as non-fiction, you don’t really get a good sense of him. There are moments of empathy, where you feel like you’re connecting, but they are quickly whisked away.
So there you have it, some of the interactive books I’ve been reading. Of course, I’ve also been writing them. Two new books in my You Choose series got released earlier this month: Night of the Creepy Carnival and Alien Invaders From Beyond the Stars. These are both adventure stories, each in a different genre — one B-grade sci-fi, the other a creepy kids’ horror — and I try to inject a good dose of humour into them as well. I’ve got another two coming out in August.
A couple of days ago I blogged about The Warlock’s Child, a great new kids’ fantasy series from authors Paul Collins and Sean McMullen (read post). Now I’m giving you the chance to win a copy of one of the books. Interested? Read on…
The Iron Claw is book 3 in The Warlock’s Child series. It hits bookshop shelves next month. But you’ve a chance to get your hands on a copy RIGHT NOW!
How? Simply send an email with WARLOCK’S CHILD in the subject line to [email protected]
The giveaway closes at 5pm (Melb time) on Monday 18 May 2015, after which I will draw the winner.
You must be an Australian resident with an Australian postal address to enter, and you can only enter once.
The winner will be contacted by email, as well as being listed in the comments section of this post. No correspondence on the matter will be entered into. Got that? Good! Now… go and enter.
The Warlock’s Child is a new series of six children’s fantasy books co-authored by Paul Collins and Sean McMullen. Each of these authors has a sterling reputation in children’s and genre literature. But the two of them together… well… was there any doubt that these books would be anything short of brilliant?
I went along to the launch of the series in April, and picked up the first three books (two before they were officially released… one of the perks of going along to a launch). I started reading the first on the following day. By the end of the week I had finished all three. And now I am counting the days until the release of the next (July).
In Book 1, The Burning Sea, we meet Dantar and his sister Velza, both children of the Dravinian Battle Warlock. They are on board a ship, part of a Dravinian fleet on its way to invade the Kingdom of Savaria. Things don’t go to plan.
In Book 2, Dragonfall Mountain, Dantar and Velza find themselves stranded in Savaria. A dragon dies and the Battle Warlock’s loyalties and motivations are called into question.
In Book 3, The Iron Claw, the plot thickens. Motivations and affiliations are muddied and we’re left hanging… until the next instalment.
Oh, did I mention there are dragons? Great, BIG, dangerous dragons… with magic! So cool!
Collins and McMullen give readers a set of likeable leads — characters that have already grown over the course of the first three books. While the story at first appears simple, complexities soon become layered over the top of each other. Action and humour abound. And did I mention the dragons? An all round, excellent read.
The Warlock’s Child actually reads like one long novel that’s been broken up into parts, albeit rather skilfully. Each book ends at just the right moment… concluding the relevant part of the story while leaving questions unanswered and setting things up for the next part. For me, this is a little bit frustrating in that I want the rest of the story NOW! But I can see the benefits. Shorter, less-threatening books are likely to pull in the reluctant readers. Plus, having six books coming out one a month is a great way to build excitement and anticipation. A bit like a television series, really.
And, of course, six books means we get six eye-catching covers from artist Marc McBride. He’s the guy who created all those amazing covers for Emily Rodda’s Deltora Quest series. And dragons are his speciality. Did I mention these books have really cool dragons?
Can you tell that I’m rather enamoured by these books? No? Okay, one more comment then… they’re a fab read! Go out and buy them. [Yes, yes I know… that was two more comments.]
HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone! What? It’s February? Already? How did that happen? Okay… so I’m a little late. I’ve been a bit preoccupied writing a book. But I’m taking a break to catch up with things and do a 2014 retrospective.
It was an amazing and busy year for me. As a result, I didn’t end up reading nearly as many books as I had planned to. 🙁 But on the bright side, the books that I did read were pretty great. So choosing my favourites is difficult. But I’ll give it a go…
Favourite Doctor Who book: Salt of the Earth by Trudi Canavan
This was an e-novella released as part of the Time Trips series during 2014. All these stories have now been collected together and will be released in hardcover in March — Time Trips. I get to brag about this one. Trudo asked me to beta read it for her, so I got to see it long before it was published. 🙂 It’s a great story in its own right, an excellent Doctor Who story and the characters of Doctor #3 and Jo Grant are spot on.
The new reading year is off to a great start, with several books devoured so far. I’m hoping I can maintain this pace for the remainder of the year. The first book for the year was Blueback by Tim Winton. What a delightful surprise it was. A deceptively simple tale about growing up and pursuing dreams, it is beautifully written. Filled with observations about life and nature and family, with an environmental message that isn’t preachy. I loved this book so much. I was very pleased to discover that it is on the Year 7 reading list for English at many schools. There is a lot in this book to spark discussion.
On the writing front, 2014 was extremely productive. I wrote three books for the education market and I had twelve education books published, including seven school readers, four non-fiction books for the Australian curriculum and one novelette tied in to the Australian geography curriculum.
Since then, I’ve been working on the next four in the series, which will be published this year. Night of the Creepy Carnival and Alien Invaders From Beyond the Stars are all set to go for May. Super Sports Spectacular, which is currently being edited, and Trapped in the GramesGrid, which I’m still writing, will be out towards the end of the year.
So 2015 is already looking pretty good! And I’ve got some new writing projects on the boil — but it’s too early to tell you about those.
The success of the You Choose books in 2014 suddenly gave me a higher profile as a writer. So I ended up doing more speaking gigs than in previous years. All up, I visited 42 schools and libraries across Australia, doing a total of 71 sessions. I even got the chance to appear on ABC3’s morning kids show Studio 3, where they interviewed me while slamming cream pies into my face. 🙂
It looks like 2015 will be just as busy, as I’ve already been booked for a bunch of speaking gigs. I’m particularly looking forward to attending the Somerset Celebration of Literature in March on the Gold Coast. This is one of the largest literary festivals for young people in Australia, with thousands of kids attending over three days. Check out their website if you want some more info. And their YouTube channel has intro vids from some of the authors and illustrators that will be speaking. Here’s mine…
So… busy times ahead. Fun times ahead. Bring it on!
Time for another catch-up blog before 2014 ends. I’ve been doing a lot of reading but haven’t had enough time to review each book separately. So here is a bunch of mini-reviews.
Great Southern Land, edited by Stephen C Ormsby and Carol Bond
This is an eclectic collection of stories, with Australia as the common theme/setting. They range from contemporary to historical, from realistic to fantastical. They’re not all gold (in fact there are a couple of clangers), but there’s enough here to make it a worthwhile read — particularly Sean McMullen’s “Acts of Chivalry” and David McDonald’s “Set Your Face Towards the Darkness”.
Missing, Presumed Undead by Jeremy Davies
This is a really bizarre, humorous, sci-fi, noir crime thriller. It took me a little while to get into it and, in fact, I almost put it down after the first chapter… but I’m glad I persisted. The style and humour grew on me, and it wasn’t long before I was really enjoying it. The highlight for me was the world that the author has created — so odd and fascinating. And this book is crying out for a sequel.
Alice on Mars by Robert Rankin
This is an illustrated story about the further adventures of Alice (from Lewis Caroll’s classic tales) as she heads to Mars, post HG Wells’s The War of the Worlds. Entertaining, bizarre and very funny!
Shadow Sister (Dragonkeeper: Book Five) by Carole Wilkinson
This is the follow-up to Blood Brothers, which began a new trilogy in the Dragonkeeper series of children’s books. It continues the adventures of Tao, the ex-novice monk, and his dragon Kai in ancient China. A beautifully written book, as you would expect from Carole Wilkinson, full of wonderful historical detail.
Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse by Chris Riddell
This is a charming, amusing and unexpected kids’ book. It’s filled with the weirdest array of characters you could ever hope to meet, bizarre situations and an off-kilter sense of humour. I had a permanent smile on my face as I read this book. The text is peppered with some lovely illustrations that add to the charm.
In Hades by Goldie Alexander
This is a YA verse novel about two dead teenagers and their descent into Hades. Wow! An amazing, daring, different, unique book. Forty separate poems combine to tell the story of Kai and Bilby-G, which at times mirrors Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey. I dare you to read this and not care about these two tragic, damaged, often unlikeable but ultimately redeemable human beings. Loved it!
Chasing Shadows, written by Corinne Fenton and illustrated by Hannah Sommerville
This is a gorgeous picture book about dealing with depression and finding a reason to continue living. Lovely, heart-felt, poetic words combine with soft welcoming illustrations to tell the story of how a puppy helps a young girl to step out of the shadows.
The Cuckoo, written by Gary Crew and illustrated by Naomi Turvey
This is a stunning picture book for older readers. Crew’s haunting, meticulously crafted words create a wonderfully dark, yet positive fairytale. And they work so well with Turvey’s illustrations. A limited wash of colour on each of the black and white drawings gives them such a unique and slightly eerie quality. Brilliant!
Well, that it’s it for now. Hope you all have a great New Year. I’ll be back in a few days to ruminate over 2014.
You may have noticed, with Christmas fast approaching, that the Boomerang Books bloggers have been writing about the festive season — recommending books for Chrissy presents; sharing festive reads; reminiscing about Christmas-themed books; etc. I was originally planning to recommend some Christmas reads… but then I changed my mind. I thought I’d do something a little different. And so (cue music), may I present for your entertainment and amusement, The Twelve Books of Christmas…
On the first day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
A kids’ book about a pear tree
On the seventh day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Little wombat swimming
Some plans a laying
Lord of the Rings
Some Angry birds
Little Red Hen
Two Turtle Doves
And a kids’ book about a pear tree
On the eighth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Little wombat swimming
Some plans a laying
Lord of the Rings
Some Angry birds
Little Red Hen
Two Turtle Doves
And a kids’ book about a pear tree
On the ninth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Dead girls a dancing
Little wombat swimming
Some plans a laying
Lord of the Rings
Some Angry birds
Little Red Hen
Two Turtle Doves
And a kids’ book about a pear tree
On the tenth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Tom Fletcher’s Leaping
Dead girls a dancing
Little wombat swimming
Some plans a laying
Lord of the Rings
Some Angry birds
Little Red Hen
Two Turtle Doves
And a kids’ book about a pear tree
On the eleventh day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
A smart detective Piping
Tom Fletcher’s Leaping
Dead girls a dancing
Little wombat swimming
Some plans a laying
Lord of the Rings
Some Angry birds
Little Red Hen
Two Turtle Doves
And a kids’ book about a pear tree
On the twelfth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Some Base-ic drumming
A smart detective Piping
Tom Fletcher’s Leaping
Dead girls a dancing
Little wombat swimming
Some plans a laying
Lord of the Rings
Some Angry birds
Little Red Hen
Two Turtle Doves
And a kids’ book about a pear tree
In June this year, at Continuum X (the 53rd Australian National Science Fiction Convention), I launched LynC’s debut science fiction novel Nil by Mouth. Today’s blog post (the third in a series of launch related posts) is an approximation of my launch speech. I say approximation, because although I had notes, I actually winged a fair bit of it. Be that as it may, here we go…
Being asked to launch a book is a nerve-racking experience. You give a tentative YES and then you go off and read the book. But what happens if you don’t like it? Will the publisher and author be offended? Will they ever speak to you again? The anxiety increases exponentially when the author is a friend. Needless to say, I was terrified when I finally sat down to read Nil By Mouth.
I’m sure you could have heard my sigh of relief from half way across the galaxy when I started reading Nil By Mouth. By the time I had finished the first page I knew I was going to like this book. A few pages later, I knew I would LOVE IT! It hooked me in, right from its mysterious title; past its opening scene; along its various twists and turns and changes of direction; through to its unexpected but very appropriate ending.
Nil By Mouth is a good, old-fashioned science fiction story. By that, I mean that it’s a story in which the science fiction elements are integral, rather than simply being window-dressing. The alien culture, the concept of human beings being used as incubators — these things are a fundamental part of the story. And yet, there is also a great deal of emotion, characters development and relationship drama. I defy anyone to read this book and not feel like they’ve been put through an emotional wringer.
Much as I like the way in which humanity is portrayed in this book, it is the alien society, its intricacies and interactions with humanity that I love most. It’s intriguing, it’s complex and it’s subtle. The layered alien characters, the subtlety of the relationships and the intricacies of the aliens’ motivations. My favourite moment is when the protagonist realises that the insulting term used by his alien master in addressing him, is actually meant as a term of endearment. It implies so much and is beautifully handled.
Nil By Mouth is a story of SF ideas, held together in a narrative context by relationships — between humans and aliens; between humans and other humans; between aliens and other aliens.
I read the eBook in preparation for today’s launch. But this is the sort of book that I will read again; the sort of book I’ll pass on to my wife to read; the sort of book I’ll stick under the nose of my daughter in a few years; the sort of book I’ll spruik to my friends; and thus, the sort of book I MUST get autographed. I’m now reserving my spot at the head of the queue so that I can purchase a print copy. Don’t get in my way! You have been warned.
Congratulations LynC, on writing an excellent book, a thought-provoking piece of science fiction and a believable and likeable set of flawed characters. And let me say here that even the antagonists are sympathetic and likeable in their own way… which is no mean feet to achieve as a writer.
So now, it is my great pleasure and honour to declare LynC’s Nil by Mouth launched. Long may it sail the literary seas.
In May this year, I had the great pleasure of launching Michael Pryor’s middle grade science fiction novel Machine Wars. The launch took place at Merri Creek Primary School in front of a room full of upper primary kids and their teachers. Here’s what I said (without all the ums and ahs and unplanned pauses as I lost my spot in the notes)…
When Michael Pryor asked me to launch his new book, I was very excited, for a number of reasons…
I’ve known Michael for a number of years, and I think he’s a nice bloke.
He launched a book for me about 3 years ago, so this was my chance to return the favour.
It provided me with the excuse to ask him to launch my new set of books in a couple of weeks (see previous post).
But most importantly…
I got a free copy of Machine Wars… before it was released! Cool!
Actually no — there is another more important reason…
I’m excited to launch this book because I’m a fan of Michael’s writing.
I loved following Aubrey Fitzwilliam’s adventures in The Laws of Magic books. I was amazed by Tara and Sam’s century-spanning friendship in 10 Futures. And now I had the chance to go along with Bram and friends as they faced a potential machine war.
Yes, I was very excited indeed!
Of course, now that I had agreed to launch the book, I was faced with a bit of problem. How do you launch a book like this? How can I convey its awesomeness?
After several weeks of head-scratching, I finally figured out what it was that I had to do.
I would get you, the audience, to use your imaginations. After all, imagination is an important part of both reading and writing.
So… you all ready? Okay?
Imagine the utter terror. Imagine the heart-pounding, adrenaline inducing fear. Imagine being attacked by a toaster! Or a laptop computer! Or maybe even a vacuum cleaner!
Got that? You imagining it? Are you feeling the fear? No?
Okay, that probably doesn’t sound all that frightening, does it? I mean really — what’s a laptop gonna do to you? Snap its lid closed on your fingers? Oh yes… that would inspire utter terror!
What if that laptop got together with the toaster and the vacuum cleaner and a few other ordinary household appliances? And what if they merged? Amalgamated — to form something new. Something dangerous! Something deadly.
A robot was standing in the ruins of my home. It wasn’t some super-futuristic metal humanoid, though. This was a robot mashed up out of household appliances. It had two arms and two legs, but instead of a head, Mum’s old laptop was perched on a neck that was a bunch of springs. Its limbs were basically Dad’s golf clubs bound by electrical cords. What got me most was that its body was mostly out vacuum cleaner. That purple tornado-packed vacuum cleaner as a robot? What was it going to do? Clean me to death? I fumbled for my bike while keeping one eye on this robo-thing — this junkbot.
So, let’s imagine some more, okay? What if your home was destroyed by junkbots? What if you were being chased by junkbots, and killbots and a super-smart artificial intelligence that controlled the whole Internet? And then imagine that the safety of the entire world depended on you not getting caught.
Well, you don’t actually have to imagine it. Michael’s already done that. All you’ve got to do it read it.
And you should read it. You should all read it. I’m talking to the grown-ups as well. Because it is a seriously awesome book, with frightening robots, thrilling chases, big explosions and some really cool ideas. And at its very core… is friendship. Because if you’re going to make a stand against a machine army, it helps to have friends by your side.
And so with that, it is my great pleasure to, to, to… declare Machine Wars launched, launched, launched, launched, launched, launched, launc…
Okay, that last bit really doesn’t work so well in print. The launch finished up with a little bit of theatrics from Michael and I, as I pretended to be a malfunctioning robot which he had to switched off. Ah… you had to be there. Trust me… it was all good on the day. 🙂
Oh yes… and Michael brought along his own personal robot to help with the book signing (see photo).
Tune next time to read about the launch of LynC’s Nil By Mouth.
A book launch is a common way of celebrating the publication of a new book. As well as being an excuse for the author’s friends and relatives to get together for a bit of congratulating, it can also be a good way to kick start the book’s promotions. Sometimes they are organised by publishers, sometimes by the author and sometimes by third parties. Oh yeah… and they’re usually a heap of fun!
It’s traditional, at a launch, to have a guest do the launch speech — another author, a celebrity relevant to the book, maybe even a politician. There’s often food and drink. And there’s always book selling and signing.
I’ve been to lots of book launches over the years — as author, guest launcher and spectator — and they’ve always been fun. Over the course of this and two other posts, I’m going to focus on a few particular launches. At two of those launches I was the guest speaker, and in the subsequent posts I’ll write up my launch speeches for those books — Michael Pryor’s Machine Wars and LynC’s Nil by Mouth. But in this post it’s my own launches that I’m going to write about.
April 2014 saw the publication of the first two books in my You Choose series — The Treasure of Dead Man’s Cove and Mayhem at Magic School (there are more of them, now). Two launches were held to herald the arrival of these books. The first was organised by a bookstore. This is the one that my friends and family came along to. The second I organised myself to coincide with my author visit to Yarra Road Primary School. Since I was going to be at the school doing a series of writing workshops, the school offered to host a You Choose launch at their assembly. A launch in front of a massive audience — an entire school full of kids and teachers. Very cool!
At both events, fellow author Michael Pryor delivered the launch speech.
So, what actually happens at a launch? What does the guest speaker say? What does the author do? Well, I can show you. I have a vid of the launch at Yarra Road Primary School…
And, just in case you haven’t had enough, here are the launch vids for two of my three Gamers books. Carole Wilkinson launched Gamers’ Quest in 2009, but I neglected to video the event. 🙁 I made sure I was better prepared for the subsequent launches.
I’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.
Death 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.
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.
Welcome 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. 😉
Writers have a tendency to gather in groups, large and small (I wonder what the collective noun would be? A scribble?). They conglomerate at festivals, frequent bookstores and go to each other’s book launches. So, as an author, I know lots of other established authors. I also know lots of aspiring and emerging authors. People always want to know about the writer’s journey of established authors. There are blogs and articles and books full of these journeys. But aspiring and emerging authors also have interesting and inspiring stories to tell. Yes, they are still in the early part of their journeys — but sharing those journeys can be wonderfully inspiring for other writers who are at a similar stage. So I asked friend and emerging author Karen Carlisle to share her story on this blog. Take it away Karen…
When George asked me to write a post for his blog, I thought: Me? What can I say that would be of any use to other writers? I am just starting out on my own writing journey? I think that was the point. There are many people who want to be writers but they do not do the one thing that a writer should do — write. Thank you for asking me to share your space, George.
Here is the thinking behind my journey…
When I grow up, I want to be a writer By Karen J Carlisle
I love stories. I used to collect the Target Doctor Who books in the 70s and 80s. I read every Star Wars book I could afford. I wrote my own adventures. I longed to travel to different worlds and accompany The Doctor on his travels through time.
I longed to grow up and become an astronaut, a Time Lady or a writer. Though I excelled at both English and Physics at school, I did not have the advanced maths skills to be an astronaut. (Sadly I was not born a Time Lady).
Both halves of my brain — the Logical Left and the Creative Right — fought for control. I was encouraged to follow a stable career path. My urge to write was shelved (for a few decades); I finished my Bachelor of Applied Science and became an optometrist. I never had the courage to follow my dream. Not practical.
Now I have all grown up. I have a career. I have a family. I have a home. Sometimes life has a way of throwing things at me — circumstances have rekindled my dream. I still want to be a writer — more than ever!
But what did I need to do to achieve my dream goal of becoming a writer (dare I say — possibly a published writer)?
The Logical Left side of my brain went into full gear: You used to get 95% for essays in high school. You can do this!
My plan of attack was:
1. Posit the question
3. Practical work
4. Discuss conclusions. (There was no escaping the university scientific training.)
1. The Question: What was the secret to successful writing?
2. The Research: Writing is a skill. Like many skills, training is required. I devoured books and followed blogs by authors and publishers to learn their secrets. The following points kept popping up:
Read or write every day.
The most influential piece of advice I have read was: Write (or read) 1000-1500 words a day (not always achievable, mind you). In 2009, Malcolm Gladwell proposed the 10,000-hour rule — to become an expert at anything, requires 10,000 hours of practice. Though not a guarantee, it was obvious that I would need to practice writing every day.
Finish and Submit the Work.
Anything can be proven by manipulating statistics but any way you spin the following, it is scary. Maybe 3-5% of writers finish their work. Of these, 3-10% might submit their story. (Stats vary but it is safe to say it is a very small percentage.) To have any chance at success, I would have to finish and submit my work.
In my final year of high school, I wrote a science fiction/comedy novel. It is in our shed… somewhere… unread by more than two people. So I had finished one book. Surely I could write another? This time round, I resolved to improve on the ‘submitting’ phase.
Learn to handle rejection.
Very few writers succeed with their first book. Even JK Rowling got rejected a dozen times before being published. Rather than discouraging, the statistical reality actually consoled me. If I finished and submitted my work, then I would be ahead of 95-99% of other writers. This increased my chances of success significantly. Game on!
3. Practical Work: Time to put my research into action.
Reading was the easy bit. Regular writing required some organisation. My plan would begin with writing short stories and a personal blog. This would get me into the habit of the good ‘work practice’ of writing daily.
Both short stories and my blog exploit my obsession with completing things to a deadline. A blog is public. If I don’t write, there is a vacant space on the Internet. I can’t fake it. My readers will know. Though less public, short story competitions have a deadline and the added incentive of prizes.
A year of competition entry rejections has been beneficial. I have adopted an excellent piece of advice — wallpaper my room with the rejection letters! Each one is proof that I am a writer who can (at least) finish in that 1-5%!
4. Conclusion/Discussion: Statistically I have come out on top.
Of my twenty short stories submitted for competition, I achieved one short listing. (I am told this is good.) This year, I joined NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo (online incentives to finish up to 50,000 words in a month). I completed my goal for ‘Camp’ in April (10,000 words) which then grew to become my first completed novella of 35,000 words (now in rewrites and edits). I have completed 30% of a novel length manuscript and have a rough outline for a first draft of another steampunk novella length story (for NaNoWriMo in November). I am happy with this progress.
Currently I am preparing to publish a series of short stories in the steampunk-alternative history genre — my current passion. Without it I would not have been inspired to begin my writing journey… all over again.
George’s bit at the end
Thank you Karen, for sharing your journey. I’m sure that other writers will find it inspiring. I certainly did. To find out more about Karen and her writing, check out her website or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
For those of you who are interested in reading more about writing, Karen supplied me with a list of some of the instructional books she has read…
Choose Your Own Adventure. Remember those books? Interactive novels written in the second person, where you get to make choices that take the story in different directions. They were enormously successful in the 1980s and there have been many other books in a similar interactive vein (including my own series, You Choose). Writer/performer Nathan Penlington certainly remembers them. And they set him off on a real-life adventure documented in his book, The Boy in the Book.
One day, Nathan Penlington decides to buy a set of Choose Your Own Adventure books on eBay. It turns out that all 106 books were originally owned by the same person — a boy in the 1980s named Terence Prendergast. And it also turns out that Terence wrote in the books — just a few scribbled notes about his life. Inside the pages of one particular book, The Cave of Time, are four pages of a diary. In those four pages Terence writes about bullying, the things he wants to improve in his life, running away from home and suicide. Finding this diary sets Nathan Penlington off on an obsessive search — to find Terence and get answers to the questions posed by the notes and diary entries. Did Terence overcome the bullying? Did he actually run away from home? What sort of person is he now? Is he even still alive? Or did he kill himself?
I can’t tell you whether or not he finds Terence as I don’t want to spoil the book — you’ll need to read it if you want to find out. But I can tell you that he meets a number of other interesting people in his search, including a child psychologist, a historian working on a collection of diaries, a Graphologist (someone who analyses hand writing) and even Choose Your Own Adventure author Edward Packard. There is a fascinating bunch of people wandering in and out of the pages of this book.
Time for you to make another choice. Would you like to…
A: Check out Edward Packard’s website
OR B: Continue reading my review…
The Boy in the Book is a twisting, turning narrative that is full of surprises, never progressing in quite the way one would expect. Although it is the story of Penlington’s search for Terance Predergast, it is also very much his own story of obsession, something that is, perhaps, more fascinating than the search itself. It is a riveting, revealing read — a journey into Penlington’s past, a study of his obsessions and an examination of his thought-processes. A unique book, indeed.
I will admit to feeling a little cheated upon reading the Afterword where Penlington reveals:
“Everything you have just read is true, but almost a lie.”
It seems that this book is based on a documentary film/live experience called Choose Your Own Documentary. So, although the events of the book are true, they didn’t always happen in quite the way the book depicts. Those meetings and interviews, personal and intimate in the book, actually took place in front of a documentary film crew. Finding this out, for me, tarnished the magic just a little. But that doesn’t make the book any less interesting or any less worth reading. It is still an excellent book and you should all read it.
Finally, you get to choose what to do now that my review is complete…
In June this year I excitedly went off to attend Continuum X, the 10th in a series of Melbourne-based science fiction and pop culture conventions. But this year was special. This year, Continuum doubled as the 53rd Australian National Science Fiction Convention.
Both guests were friendly, eloquent and well worth the price of admission. And they both delivered extraordinary Guest of Honour speeches — you can check out Jim’s here and Ambelin’s here.
But there was lots more to Continuum X. There were panel discussions on an amazing range of topics, from early science fiction cinema to The Big Bang Theory; from technology for writers to religion in science fiction. Perhaps the most extraordinary of these was “We Do This Stuff… Gets Personal”. The programme description was as follows: “Based loosely on the “living library” idea, this is a chance for people to talk about their experiences of being an othered gender, sexuality, race, physical, mental or sensory disability or otherwise other, with questions from the audience. Open to writers who want to write better characters and anyone who just wants a better understanding of what it’s like in someone else’s head.” Not only did this panel provide the opportunity for writers to learn, it promoted understanding, which is a starting point for a more inclusive community.
The Stars Like Sand: Australian Speculative Poetry edited by Tim Jones and PS Cottier
I was particularly excited about Nil By Mouth, which I had the great pleasure of launching myself. I was also honoured to co-host the Continuum X awards night with fellow-author Narrelle M Harris. Awards presented that evening included the Ditmars (for excellence in Australian science fiction, fantasy and horror), the Chronos Awards (for excellence in Victorian science fiction, fantasy and horror), as well as a number of special awards.
You can check out a complete list of nominees and winners on the Continuum website.
All up Continuum X was a great experience for genre book fans — so many authors, editors and publishers just wandering around, as well as speaking on panels, reading from their works and taking part in question and answer sessions. I picked up a bunch of books to add to my ever-growing to-be-read mountain, as well as adding to my really, really long list of books I must purchaser in the near future. 🙂
A HUGE thank you to the organisers, panellists and attendees for making this such an enjoyable event. I’m already looking forward to next year’s Continuum.
Writing historical fiction requires more than just authorly talent and an interest in the past. It requires a love of research and, even more importantly, the ability to turn that research into a story that will be relevant to current readers. It’s not an easy task, but there are writers out there who do it remarkably well.
One such author is Goldie Alexander, whose latest young adult novel, That Stranger Next Door, is another in a long line of historical novels for young people. Today, Goldie has stopped by with an account of how she approaches the genre. Take it away Goldie…
Fictionalising History By Goldie Alexander
Over the years I have had 6 historical fictions published for young readers. The challenge was to create convincing settings, characters and dialogue, and the all-important story line to keep my readers involved. This narrative develops from the problems my characters encounter — their aims, wishes and fears. All fictions based on history start with the premise ‘what if you were there at the time’. Though they are based on carefully researched facts, this research must never show. The story must be seamless.
In Mavis Road Medley my two contemporary youngsters find themselves in Princes Hill Melbourne at the end of the Great Depression. In My Australian Story: Surviving Sydney Cove a thirteen-year-old girl convict lives in the Sydney of 1790, when the First Fleet felt cut off from the rest of the world. Body and Soul: Lilbet’s Romance describes a disabled girl’s life just before the outbreak of World War Two. In Gallipoli Medals Great Uncle Jack is a soldier in WW1.
The Youngest Cameleer is viewed from the perspective of a fourteen-year-old Moslem. This lesser known exploration into the interior led by William Gosse in 1873 included both Europeans and Afghans, and is based on Gosse’s own journal. This expedition was the first non-indigenous group to stumble across Uluru, and without the use of cameleers they might never have survived the harsh desert conditions.
My most recent historical fiction That Stranger Next Door is set in 1954 at the height of the ‘Cold War’. In the United States, Senator McCarthy was using anti-communist laws to force academics, film-makers and other intellectuals to a senate hearing to ask if they ever belonged to the Communist Party and to name anyone who had gone to their meetings. Many people lost their jobs and their families. Some even committed suicide.
We think of this time in Australia as a time when Prime Minister Menzies ruled, the Queen visited us wearing pearls, England was Home, there was the Korean War, migrants being shunted into camps, the Snowy Mountain Scheme, the six o’clock swill, nuclear families, housewifery for women, and the coming of television. Politically, there was the Communist Referendum, the split in the Labour Party into ALP and DLP, and the infamous Petrov Affair.
When an insignificant Russian diplomat called Vladimir Petrov defected to Australia, promising to provide information about a Russian spy-ring, he ‘forgot’ to mention this to his wife. As Evdokia was pulled onto a plane in Darwin, she was rescued at the last minute by ASIO and hidden in a ‘safe house’. At the time PM Menzies was also trying to bring in similar anti-communist legislation to the US, and thankfully, in this he was unsuccessful.
In That Stranger Next Door, fifteen-year-old Ruth, her Jewish mother, father, four-year-old brother Leon and her grandfather (Zieda) live above the family milk-bar in Melbourne’s Elwood. Because Ruth’s father once belonged to the Communist Party, the family fear that the ‘Petrov Affair’ will help bring in anti-Communist legislation that will produce another wave of anti-Semitism.
The story opens with Eva moving in next-door and Ruth meeting Catholic Patrick O’Sullivan. (Patrick’s father is about to work for Bob Santamaria and the emerging DLP party). Patrick offers to teach Ruth to ride a bike at a time when some Jewish girls were actively discouraged from riding bikes, never allowed to mix with gentile boys, and kept sexually ignorant. Eva agrees to provide Ruth with an alibi for meeting Patrick, but only with the proviso that her presence also be kept secret. As Ruth rails against her mother’s authority, she is fascinated by Patrick’s totally different background. Between Ruth’s account of her first love, Eva fills in her own story. All this takes place during the height of the Cold War when the world seemed on the knife edge of nuclear annihilation.
Australians are sometimes chastised for dwelling on immediate present, as if only 21st Century problems are relevant. Nevertheless I agree with those who argue that ‘those who are ignorant of history are destined to repeat it’.
George’s bit at the end
My thanks to Goldie for sharing her approach to writing this kind of fiction. I am amazed by the amount of historical knowledge demonstrated in just this short article. Imagine what her books might be like! Well, guess what? You don’t have to imagine. Go read one. 🙂
Every now and then, chain post interviews (sometimes called blog hops) seem to circulate around the blogging community of writers. They’re a bit like chain letters, in that you do your bit and then pass it on in an ever expanding ripple, until people lose interest — you do your blog post (in which you answer a set of questions) and then link to three other writers, who will do their blog posts and link to another three writers each, and so on.
Now, here are my answers to the 4 questions being circulated…
What are you working on at the moment?
As always, I’m working on a few different things.
The project that is taking up most of my time at the moment is the promoting of my new You Choose series of books. This has involved blog posts, television interviews, presentations at Teacher/Librarian events and LOTS of school and bookshop visits.
I’m working on an essay for an upcoming pop culture book about Star Trek. As a long time Star Trek fan, this is rather fun.
I have also been working on a proposal. But I can’t tell you about that just yet. Sorry!
There are other things — half-finished stories, vague ideas and stuff that will probably never see the light of day.
How do you think your work differs from that of other writers in your genre?
It differs simply because it is my work. Every writer approaches a genre or topic in their own unique way, just as every person views the world in their own unique way.
Why do you write what you write?
I write about the things that interest me. Simple as that! I write the sorts of stories that I like reading.
What’s your writing process, and how does it work?
Things always begin with a notebook. I carry it around with me most places I go. Into this notebook I jot down all sorts of crazy ideas. Once I have a definite project in mind, it gets a dedicated notebook into which I brainstorm. After that I move to the computer and write an outline, because I need to know where a story is going before I can start writing it. Once I’ve got the outline sorted, I begin writing. And then comes the re-writing. Each of the Gamers books (Gamers’ Quest, Gamers’ Challenge and Gamers’ Rebellion) went through about 10 drafts.
Now it’s time for me to handball these questions on to the next bunch of writers. Keep an eye on their blogs to see what they have to say for themselves…
Jenny Blackford is a writer and poet whose work has appeared in places as diverse as Westerly, Cosmos Magazine, The School Magazine and Strange Horizons. Pamela Sargent described Jenny’s subversively feminist historical novella, The Priestess and the Slave, as “elegant.” In late 2013 Pitt Street Poetry published her first poetry collection, The Duties of a Cat, which Eileen Gunn called “enchanting”. Her work has appeared in every Australian Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror so far. She is Secretary of the Newcastle Writers Festival. Check out her blog.
David McDonald is a Melbourne based writer who works for an international welfare organisation. When not on a computer or reading a book, he divides his time between helping run a local cricket club and working on his debut novel. In 2013 he won the Ditmar Award for Best New Talent, and in 2014 won the William J. Atheling Jr. Award for Criticism or Review. His short fiction has appeared in anthologies such as The Lone Ranger Chronicles from Moonstone Books and Epilogue from Fablecroft Publishing. David is a member of the Australian Horror Writers Association, The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers, and of the Melbourne based writers group, SuperNOVA. Check out his blog.
Beau Hillier is a Melbourne-based writer, editor and reviewer with several years experience in the publishing industry. He holds a Diploma in Professional Writing and Editing and has worked with marketing collateral, anthologies and manuscripts in various genres. He is currently the head editor of page seventeen, an annual collection of short stories and poetry showcasing emerging writers. Check out his posts on the Busybird Publishing blog.
Interactive books! Remember reading them as a kid? Choose Your Own Adventure and Pick-a-Path are the two series I remember best. But there were lots of others, including Fighting Fantasy and Twistaplot. Although they’ve never completely gone out of vogue, they seem to be having a bit of a resurgence at the moment with series such as Lost in…, Choose Your Own Ever After and my own series, You Choose.
Interactive books (or game books, or branching path books) are often referred to as Choose Your Own Adventure books (or CYOA books). But Choose Your Own Adventure is actually the trade-marked name of the series which popularised this style of storytelling. Contrary to popular belief, these books did not invent the concept. It was predated by a series called The Adventures of You, and there are other earlier examples of individual stories playing around with this format.
The basic concept is that the story branches at various key points, where the reader gets to decide which path to follow. The other defining feature of this style of storytelling, is that they are written as second person narrative, placing the reader into the story.
I read the Choose Your Own Adventure series rather obsessively back in the 1980s. I loved the fact that decisions I made influenced the outcome of the story. As a kid, it gave me a sense of control and power that ordinary books did not provide. It was exciting! And I got to re-read the books… but with a different outcome each time. I got very good at marking pages with my fingers as I read — often reaching the end of a path with every available finger wedged between the pages — so that I could backtrack and rethink my decisions. A little awkward, but oh so much fun!
Over the years, nothing has rivalled the popularly of the Choose Your Own Adventure series. But new books have continued to pop up every now and then, from interactive versions of RL Stine’sGoosebumps (Give Yourself Goosebumps), to those set in the Doctor Who universe (Doctor Who: Decide Your Destiny), from a history education series, to a couple of books written by John Marsden in the 1990s (Cool School and Creep Street).
My writing of this series has pretty much been an excuse for me to relive my childhood. And I cannot express just how much fun it has been plotting out all the different story paths for each of the books. I write each plot point onto a card, then stick it up onto a white board — lots of arrows and shifting around ensues, until things finally make sense. Here’s what the final plan of The Treasure of Dead Man’s Cove looks like…
The You Choose series is being marketed for middle to upper primary… but I reckon they’re fun for ‘kids’ of all ages. 😉 I’ve spoken to many parents who grew up reading the Choose Your Own Adventure books, and who are now excited about having a new interactive series to read to their kids. And that’s pretty cool!
The Poppy is a new book from author/illustrator Andrew Plant. It’s difficult to describe. It’s not a standard picture book, but it’s not quite a graphic novel either. It’s set in the present, but deals with the past. It recounts actual events, but is presented in a ‘storybook’ context. Having said all that, what it definitely is… is utterly BRILLIANT!
Poppies bloom across northern France and a petal is blown up into the air. As we follow that petal, a dual story unfolds. There is the historical story of a Word War I battle fought by Australian troops on French soil. And there is the story of a continued connection between Australia and the French village of Villers-Bretonneux.
This story is remarkable because it is true — a connection of peace and friendship from an incident of war and sacrifice. This leads to what, I think, is the most moving and evocative image in the book — the petal floating between the French and Australian flags, flying side by side at the gravesite of unknown soldiers.
“The poppies nod in the winds that blow over the Somme. Their petals turn the fields red where once they were stained with the blood of the fallen.”
The artwork is not presented in the standard picture book format. It looks a little like a comic book layout, with multiple images per page, presented in various sized boxes broken up by text. But, unlike a comic, there are no talk bubbles. The design of the book is quite striking.
The artwork is glorious. The words are heartfelt and touching. There is so much depth in this book. So much to discuss. At the end of the book is a summary of the battle and the links forged between countries — perfect for classroom discussion. This is a book that every school in Australia should be studying. The inclusion of a school and young children in the narrative makes the topic approachable for primary aged kids. But I believe that secondary students could also gain much from this book.