Zombies and Darth Vader

I love picture books! I have a four-year-old, so I reads LOTS of picture books to her. But I also read picture books for my own pleasure. And I want to tell you about two rather unusual ones that I LOVE!

Zombies! They’re the in thing, aren’t they? Everybody seems to love ‘em. People even like to dress up like them. It seems like every state in this country has an annual zombie walk. Now, zombies are usually scary. Sometimes they can be funny as well (think Shaun of the Dead). Recently, they’ve also been romantic — case in point: Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion. But a picture book about zombies?

Zombies Hate Stuff is a picture book, written and illustrated by Greg Stone. And it is BRILLIANT! Basically, this book is a series of lists divided into 4 sections: “Zombies Hate…”, “Zombies Don’t Mind…”, “Zombies Really Hate…” and “Zombies Love…”. Each list item has its own page and its own highly amusing picture. So, by reading this book, you can discover that zombies hate kittens, but they don’t mind mimes; they really hate bagpipes, but they love… Well, there’s only one item in this last section and I’m not about to spoil the surprise. 🙂

Despite the gruesome subject matter, the illustrations are cute and never gory.

Zombies Hate Stuff is a really cool book!

So is Darth Vader and Son, written and illustrated by Jeffrey Brown. Okay… so you have to be a Star War fan to like this book. But who isn’t? 🙂

This book is a series of scenes from a Star Wars reality that never was. A “what if?” scenario in which Darth Vader raises his son, Luke Skywalker, (OMG… I hope I haven’t just spoiled The Empire Strikes Back for anyone.) and engages in a bit of father-and-son bonding. They play baseball with a lightsaber, they go trick-or-treating with Luke as a stormtrooper (“Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?”) and they visit the garbage compactor aboard the Death Star. The illustrations are cartoonish and very engaging, with lots of wonderful detail. A fun book! An there’s a follow-up book — Darth Vader’s Little Princess.

I bought these books for myself. Who would have thought that both my kids would love them as well? Now I have to share them.

zombie book IMG_0406

Catch ya later,  George

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Reading Sherlock

9781904919698Many years ago, while at university, I read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. It was a set text, along with some Agatha Christie, Edgar Allen Poe, Raymond Chandler and assorted others, for a detective fiction unit I was doing. I don’t remember much detail from that reading (my memory becoming more akin to Swiss cheese with every passing year), but I do remember enjoying it a great deal. And I had always meant to read more of Holmes’s adventures.

Over the last few years there seems to have been a resurgence of interest in Mr Sherlock Holmes on both the small and large screens. The Robert Downey Jr films (see my review) and the two contemporised television versions, Sherlock from the Brits ( see my review) and Elementary from the Yanks, have renewed interest in the world’s greatest fictional detective. By no means immune, I’ve been watching these adaptations… And they have made me yearn for the original source material.

9781904919728So, I purchased a lovely boxed set of all the original Conan Doyle Holmes books. I’ve now read the first two novels and I though it worth the effort to tell you about them.

Individually, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four, are cracking great adventures. The first is particularly interesting for its structure. About two thirds of the way in, the story changes dramatically, from Dr Watson’s account of a mystery to a seemingly unrelated third person narrative set in the past. It is quite some time before its relevance becomes apparent. It’s quite jarring and confusing at first — a mystery within a mystery story — and I enjoyed it because of this. It’s not often that you come across something this unexpected in a novel.

The Sign of the Four was originally published three years after the first story, in 1890. And it seems that Sir Arthur had changed his mind about things (or perhaps neglected to check what he had written in the previous adventure) since the last outing of the great Sherlock Holmes. There are a number of inconsistencies. Dr Watson’s war wound changes location from shoulder to leg, for instance.

Most interesting is the change in the basic character of Holmes. He is a more flawed, albeit peculiar person in the first book. His knowledge is very specialised towards the science of criminology and detection, with huge gaps in routine general knowledge. In fact, the author goes to great pains to list all the things that Sherlock does not know. In the intervening years, Holmes seems to have acquired a great deal of knowledge, becoming an expert in practically everything. And this is the character that most contemporary readers/viewers are familiar with — the great intellect with an almost encyclopaedic knowledge. I’m told by one Holmes fan that I have even more inconsistencies to look forward to. 🙂

The language is a joy to read, although occasionally rather unintentionally amusing because of the dated turns of phrase… Dr Watson, for instance, ejaculates an awful lot during conversations. 🙂 Some of the views are also rather dated. There are some offhand racist comments in The Sign of the Four (yes, I know they’re in historical context, but they still jarred with me), and there is Holmes’s advice to Watson…

“Women are never to be entirely trusted — not the best of them.”

Despite the inconsistencies and dated views, I loved reading these adventures. I’m looking forward to reading more.

Catch ya later,  George

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DC Green goes to Monster School

Monster SchoolDC Green, author of the Erasmus James series, has a new book. Monster School hit the shelves on 1 October and DC is out and about doing a monstrous blog tour. Today, he’s visiting us here at Boomerang Books. Take it away, DC…

Writing Monstrous Characters
By DC Green

Monsters rule! The hardest thing about writing Monster School was deciding which terrifying creatures to leave out of the main narrative. There are so many cool monsters – some popular, some rare and many unknown. Yet I knew for my story to work, I’d have to focus on a small(ish) group of monster types. Better to get to know a few well-developed characters than to have dozens of ill-defined or stereotypical creatures overloading the poor readers’ brains.

So, reluctantly, Monster School features zero werewolves, sasquatches, leprechauns, hydras or Terminators. (Though there are two more books in the City of Monsters series to remedy that situation!)

Conflict conflict conflict 

Cramming four million monsters into a single city seemed a perfect way to brew conflict. I loved the idea of different monsters clashing for a range of reasons – opposing cultures and values, ancient rivalries, and of course, simple hunger. Logically, many monster species would have their own schools in their own quarters, such as the famed Ogre Bodyguard College. But Castle Mount, at the heart of Monstro City, contains a mix of adult monsters from every quarter. It makes sense their monstrous offspring would attend a nearby, very mixed, school: Monstro Central.

To multiply this potential conflict, I wanted the core ‘gang’ who attend class 10A at Monster School to be diverse. That, presumably, meant each of my main monsters would hail from minority species, which would add to the outsider dynamic I wanted to establish.

The most populous monster species in Monstro City is the plains goblin. The three main goblin clans tally over a third of Monstro City’s population. They are the deal-makers, politicians, bureaucrats and bankers; in short, the new humans. So the school is dominated by young mafia goblins.

I named my outsider group the Dead Gang, because I liked the name and it was accurate. Yes, the majority of the Dead Gang are not technically alive. I couldn’t help myself: there are just so many cool dead monsters!

So I came up with the three core Deads: Stoker the mohawked vampire; Scarab the kindly mummy, and Zorg the rat-chewing, socially-challenged zombie (who has a thing for Scarab). The gang also needed some monsters from other quarters, so I brought in two Mythics: Tessa the garbage-collecting troll (actually, garbage-digesting is more accurate) and Bruce, the joker giant spider.

On the first day we visit Monstro Central School, two new and important characters arrive: the narrator, Swamp Boy, a scaredy and naïve swamp monster; and Greta, a surly and sarcastic forest goblin, rumoured to have magical powers.

That ended up being a lot more monsters than I planned to include, but they all proved to be so much fun to write, all had such distinct voices and brought so much to the story table. Together, they formed a virtually a super-powered team, capable of so much more collectively than individually.

Bruce the giant spider

BruceBruce is my favourite monster. My novels always include a character with this name, but never has a Bruce been so much fun to write.

First, this Bruce is fun to physically describe. The giant spider has 128 eyes and is huge, so he can’t fit through normal-sized doorways. He has eight legs with pincers instead of fingers, two chellica (mini-arms) enclosing his mouth and one exoskeleton. Despite his fearsome appearance, he’s a loyal gang-member and friend. When scared, he vibrates.

Bruce is a prankster, always quick with a one-liner or an insult. From the moment he jabs a hairy pincer into Swamp Boy’s ribs, his dialogue is distinctive. ‘Yo, Swampy. I’m your friendly neighbourhood eight-legged killing machine! But you can call me Bruce.’

As with all my characters, I asked dozens of questions of Bruce before I even began the story proper. That way, I got to know my monsters intimately, from their voices to the way they react in different scenarios. I also like to weigh my characters with some type of personality flaw, as well as at least one secret. Other questions I ask range from the mundane (what is their favourite food?) to the profound (what is their philosophy of life?).

Creating monster characters is no different to creating interesting humans. Both require careful planning and questioning; though not many humans can shoot webs from their claws and their backside spinnerets!

George’s bit at the end

My thanks to DC for sharing his monstrous creative process with us. Cool stuff!

To find out more about DC Green, his book and his Monster School blog tour, check out his blog.

Catch ya later,  George

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The Girl in the Basement

The Girl in the BasementThe Girl in the Basement is the latest novel from award-winning author Dianne Bates. Dianne is visiting the Boomerang Books blog today to tell us a little about the writing process behind this new novel. Take it away Dianne…

The Girl in the Basement, the Writer in the Garret
By Dianne Bates

No fiction is created in a vacuum; at the core of all writers is a jumble of thoughts, experiences, beliefs, emotions and lots of odds and ends, all waiting to be tapped and then assembled to form story. Every one of my novels, whether it’s a humorous children’s story about a truck-driving grandmother or a burping bushranger, has resulted from mining snippets of my subconscious and then deliberately shaping them.

My latest novel, The Girl in the Basement, is about a teenager abducted on her sixteenth birthday by a psychopathic serial killer who wants to create a family. Thank heavens I’m not a psychopath, but at times in my life I have experienced feelings of rage and of revenge, emotions which I explored to create Psycho Man. And too, I still remember how it felt to be a teenager: it was much easier to mine those memories to create Libby Bramble. Both Libby and Psycho Man demanded to be heard, so I wrote the book using multiple viewpoints: Libby tells her story in first person while the kidnapper’s story is told in third person. I wanted to show Libby always living in the moment whereas the kidnapper, being more elusive and anonymous, needed to be presented in a cloak of mystery. The use of present tense throughout the novel means there is more immediacy to the story as events unfold.

The Girl in the Basement is based on the real-life discovery in 1987 of a Polaroid photograph picked up by a shopper in a Florida (US) car park. It showed a teenage girl, and a boy about ten who were both bound and gagged and who appeared to be in the back of a van. Disturbed by the photo, the finder took it to police.  Hundreds of stories with the picture were run in national media, including a TV program, Missing People. This resulted in the parents of both children contacting police. The boy was said to be Michael Henley, who had gone missing from a camping trip 17 months earlier. The girl, identified as Tara Calico, had disappeared 75 miles away a year earlier while out cycling. Both Michael and Tara were from New Mexico but were unrelated. For their parents, it was the first inkling of what had happened to them.

I was distressed by the story and often wondered if either of the victims were ever found. As it turned out, there were numerous unconfirmed sightings of Tara in 1988 and 1989, mostly in the southern half of the United States. However, she has never been found, alive or dead. Remains found in the Zuni Mountains in June 1990 were eventually identified as Michael’s. It is believed he died of natural causes. Thus the identity of the boy in the photo is still unknown.

In developing a storyline for the novel, I needed to ask and answer many questions. What if a demented man is lonely and wants a family? What if he stalks young girls looking for one who is ‘ideal’? What does he consider ‘ideal’? Where would he keep her and for how long? What if he also wants a ‘son’? How does he capture his victims? What if the children he imprisons are resistant to his efforts to charm them?

A long time spent thinking and making notes and linking answers to one another resulted in a storyline beginning to develop. Next, I needed to consider where to begin the story. I needed to know, too, whether the kidnapped teenage girl and the younger boy ever escaped, and if they did, how? What might happen during the time of imprisonment? I needed, too, to think about and to map out background stories for my main characters – their present and past relationships, where they lived, what motivated them in life. And, too, I needed to plan settings, especially the house where Psycho Man takes his captives. How might he treat them there? What freedoms, if any, might he allow them? How does he keep them alive? Importantly, does he allow them to live?

The Girl in the Basement sets a scenario of how the combination of being a teenage girl, over-indulging in alcohol, being alone, being in the wrong place and being very unlucky can predicate abduction. More than any demographic, young women are likely to be victims of crime, especially kidnapping, so it’s not surprising that teenage girls would have a fear of being abducted by a stranger. Wikipedia reports dozens of cases of kidnapped victims over the past century; some have been found alive, but many were murdered. I was helped in my understanding of the psychology of a captive by reading about the experiences of young females such as Jaycee Lee Dugard, Natascha Kaumpsch and Sabine Dardenne, who were held by different psychopaths at different times in different countries. Dardenne’s book I Choose to Live, about her 80 days in captivity, gave me a real insight into the experience and mindset of being kidnapped.

The Girl in the Basement offers readers an insight in how it is possible to survive one of the hardest curveballs that life can throw, so I needed to present Libby, the hero of the story, as a young woman who is resilient, resourceful, independent, caring, and brave. And I needed the reader to understand what it must be like to be unhinged, as Psycho Man doubtless is. I needed to show how he functions in ‘normal’ society, just as Ariel Castro, the abductor of three young women in Cleveland, Ohio, fooled many people by appearing to be ‘normal’. Reading many real-life crime books and crime novels helped me enormously in preparing to write and to actually write and craft my psychological thriller.

The writing of The Girl in the Basement (which underwent numerous draft titles) took about five years. Before submitting it to a publisher, I not only underwent weekly copy-editing workshops with my husband, award-winning YA author Bill Condon and a group of three other published authors, but I also paid for the finished draft to be assessed by a professional, in-house editor. She made many suggestions, all of which I followed in order to finish with a manuscript I finally decided was publishable.

My experience with major publishers is that they invariably spend up to (and sometimes longer than) 12 months sitting on their manuscript slush piles. As I wasn’t prepared to wait this long, I took a gamble on a relatively new publisher, Morris Publishing Australia, based in Brisbane. Luckily I received a reply before too long and it was positive.

George’s bit at the end

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Thank you, Dianne, for sharing your behind the book story.

Dianne is the author of many books, including Crossing The Line, Nobody’s Boy and The Hold-up Heroes. To find out more about Dianne and her writing, check out her blog.

  

Catch ya later,  George

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Media tie-in books

Tied InMedia tie-in books are those that are in some way associated with a film, television series or game. I’m interested in these types of books both as a reader and a writer. I recently read a book about tie-in writing — Tied In: The Business, History and Craft of Media Tie-in Writing. So tie-in writing is the subject of today’s post.

Official tie-in writing, licensed by the owners of the property, can be divided into three areas — novelisations, original fiction and non-fiction. Novelisations are straight adaptations of existing films or television episodes. Many major films will have these and so will some tv shows. Original fiction tie-ins are, as the name suggests, new stories about the characters and world of a television series, film or game. And non-fiction is… well… stuff written about a tv show, film or game. Of course, there’s also the unofficial tie-in writing. In terms of fiction, this means fan fic, published on the Internet or in fanzines at no profit. In terms of non-fiction, this means professional books and magazines of critique/reviews, as well as fan commentary.

My first encounter with tie-in writing, as a reader, was with the Doctor Who novelisations. Target Books published well over a hundred of these back in the 1970s and 80s. Next, there was the novelisation of E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial and the sequel novel E.T.: The Book of the Green Planet, both by William Kotzwinkle. Since then I’ve gone on to read lots of novelisations, original fiction and non-fiction based on things like Doctor Who, Star Wars, Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica.

As you can see from the above, my tie-in leanings are towards science fiction. But there’s tie-in fiction for all sorts of films and tv shows. The novelisations of the Dance Academy series have been particularly popular in recent times. And I’m sure I’ve seen Home and Away books in many a discount bin. 🙂

My experience as a reader has shown me there is a great deal of variation in quality. There are some pretty awful tie-in books out there… but there’s also some real gold. For many years there was a great deal of stigma attached to writing tie-in material. It was seem by many as the domain of hacks and writers incapable of getting original material published. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just take a look at the Doctor Who and Star Wars books of recent years. Names such as Michael Moorcock, Sean Williams and Stephen Baxter jump out. So don’t be too quick to judge a tie-in book!

 

I’m particularly excited that my friend Trudi Canavan, author of The Black Magician Trilogy and many other great books, is writing a Doctor Who novella for a series of BBC eBooks (see her blog post “Time Tripping with Doctor Who”). Her experience has been fun for me, as I’ve gotten to wade through my DVD collection, choosing appropriate episodes to lend her for research; and I’ve been a pseudo-consultant, answering some nerdy fanboy Doctor Who questions for her. Now, I can’t wait to read her story.

As a writer, tie-in material holds a great deal of fascination for me, particularly as I’m a bit of a pop culture junkie. So I’ve actively pursued it. I wrote for the Behind the News magazine and I wrote one of the tie-in books. I was also lucky enough to write a Doctor Who story for the anthology Short Trips: Defining Patterns. And I’ve done a few essays for some unlicensed books about Doctor Who. It’s something that I’ve enjoyed a great deal and would love to do more of. (See my blog posts: “I Love Doctor Who” and “Writing about Doctor Who“)

Which brings me back to Tied In: The Business, History and Craft of Media Tie-in Writing, edited by Lee Goldberg and published by The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers. Aside from a few  typos, this book is a great read. To any writers out there who are keen on getting into the tie-in market, this book is an excellent resource. It gives you the facts of working in the industry and a run down of what you can expect from working in that area. To readers of tie-in material, this book is a wonderful history of and insight into the industry. Highly recommended!

Catch ya later,  George

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Superheros and a magical genius

Wild CardMany books these days are part of a series. And a fair chunk of my recent reading has been made up of such books. My favourite type of book series is one in which each novel is a separate story, as opposed to one long saga broken down into instalments. I like these books to have continuity and story elements that span the series… but having a story with a beginning, middle and end, all in one book, is rather good.

So today, I’m going to tell you about two such books — book two in Steven Lochran’s Vanguard Prime series and book three in Michael Pryor’s The Laws of Magic. Two very different books but both excellent in their own way.

Vanguard Prime is about superheroes. The first book, Goldrush (see: “Vanguard Prime to the rescue“), introduced us to Sam Lee, an ordinary teenager who suddenly finds himself acquiring super powers and joining the ranks of a quasi-military group of superheroes. In the second book, Sam teams up with fellow Vanguard Prime hero, the Knight of Wands, to go on a personal mission against an organisation calling itself The Major Arcana.

Where book one was an introduction to the world of superheros through the eyes of Sam Lee, book two, Wild Card, is an exploration of the Knight of Wands’ past as well as his frame of mind. I found the more personal nature of this second mission very engaging. And I also found myself becoming more accustomed to the perspective-swapping present tense narrative that I found a little distracting with the first book. It was good to get some insight into the history and motivations of one of the other Vanguard Prime members, and the Knight of Wands is certainly the superhero with the darkest and most mysterious past.

Wild Card is a good read. Fast paced and entertaining, but with some depth to what could easily have been cardboard cut-out characters. And as a bit of a pop culture junkie, I loved all the references that Lochran has peppered this story with — from Comic-Con to Star Wars. This book is also an easy read… I think Vanguard Prime is a great series to hook in reluctant readers.

Book three in the Vanguard Prime series, War Zone, is due out in September this year. I’m looking forward to it.

The Laws of Magic, by Michael Pryor, is an older series. The final book came out in 2011… I’m just a little late to jump onto this bandwagon. And what a magnificent bandwagon it is. Pryor has created a superbly detailed alternative Edwardian world, where magic exists alongside science. Into that world he has placed memorable characters, complex plots and a fascinating set of magical laws. The series centres around a gifted young aristocratic magician, Aubrey Fitzwilliam, who, due to over-confidence and a dose of arrogance, has placed himself in a rather tricky situation. I loved the first two books (see “Michael’s Blaze of Glory” and “Pryor’s Gold”), and I can say without any doubt that I loved this third book just as much. I’m looking forward to reading the remaining three.

Word of Honour is as enthralling a read as its predecessors. Pryor’s prose is a joy to read and his created world is a joy to explore. The characters we’ve come to know and love are back, facing a dastardly new plot — but is it the work of Aubrey’s nemesis Dr Tremaine, or is someone else behind it? Well… I’m not going to tell you. Go read the book! You won’t regret it!

Catch ya later,  George

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A book thrice launched

Gamers RebellionThis month sees the release of my new teen novel, Gamers’ Rebellion. It is the third book in the Gamers series (YAY, I’ve achieved trilogy status) and it’s a book that’s getting three launches. Three launches? Am I being greedy? Well, there is method to my madness. Allow me to explain.

Gamers’ Rebellion is aimed at kids and young teens. The first two books, Gamers’ Quest and Gamers’ Challenge, are on the Victorian Premier’s Reading Challenge booklist for Years 5&6 and Years 7&8. So it seemed logical to aim a launch at this age group. That happened a few weeks ago at the Craigieburn Library Literary Festival. This Festival was aimed at local schools and was attended by many students from upper primary and lower secondary, so it was the perfect avenue to launch the book. So… in front of an auditorium crammed full of kids, the wonderful Meredith Costain (author of Disaster Chef and many other books), launched Gamers’ Rebellion with a terrific speech about video games and avatars. Here’s the vid…

The Gamers books are science fiction novels partly set within a computer game world. So although they are aimed at kids and teens, they have also found an audience among sci-fi fans and gamers. So as well as introducing the latest book to students, it seems logical to also announce it to the science fiction community. What better place is there to do that, than at Melbourne’s annual spec fic and pop culture convention, Continuum (see my post “Continuum 9”). And so, last Saturday, Narrelle M Harris (author of The Opposite of Life and Walking Shadows) launched the book to the attendees of Continuum 9. I’m very excited that Narrelle agreed to do this. Not only is she a friend and fellow author… I’m also a HUGE fan of her writing.

More about this launch and Continuum 9 in general, coming soon.

Both these launches were part of festivals and conventions that people have had to pay to attend. So I thought the book also really needed a public launch. An event that family and friends and others could come along to without paying. And thus, on Saturday 6 July, Gamers’ Rebellion will be launched a third time — at Watsonia Library. Although the launch is part of the Myths and Legends Annual Booklovers Festival, there is no cost for attending. So, come one, come all! There are details on the festival page, and I will also be posting more about it here on the Boomerang Books Blog as we get closer to the date.

There you have it folks… a book thrice launched. I’m rather excited about it all.

Catch ya later,  George

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Carole Wilkinson writes past and present

StagefrightCarole Wilkinson’s latest book, Stargefright, is a bit of a departure for her. She’s known for her historical novels set in ancient china (Dragonkeeper series) and Egypt (Ramose series), but this book is set in a contemporary high school. How different was it to write? Well… Carole has written a guest blog post on just that topic. Take it away, Carole…

Writing the past and the present
By Carole Wilkinson

Stagefright is my latest book and it’s the only book I’ve written that is set in the here and now. It’s about some high-school students putting on a musical version of of Shakespeare’s Richard the Third.

Most of my books are set in historical times. People have asked me if it’s different writing a contemporary story. I get the impression they assume it must be a lot easier. No research, right? Well, not exactly. There is research, but it’s different. Writing modern teenage speech is scary. I had to listen in to conversations on the tram (managed to avoid getting arrested for stalking!). I quizzed teenage children of friends for current ways to insult people (my characters do that a lot).

Writing dialogue for a modern audience involves a balance. I imagine kids reading a modern story are more critical. I wanted it to sound current, but on the other hand I didn’t want it to be outdated before it hit the bookshops. So after writing the dialogue, I went back and modified it, trying not to overdo it.

And there’s always other research that needs to be done. I read Richard the Third about five times so that I could get to know it well enough to adapt the story for my purposes. And then I had to write song lyrics based on it! I also had to find out about current high-school curriculum and create a weekly timetable for my students.

When writing Stagefright, I felt more of a sense of responsibility to readers as far as morals and ethics were concerned. There are quite a few really gruesome scenes in my historical novels, and I didn’t worry about them, and I’ve never had a single complaint. The Ancient China of my Dragonkeeper books is distant in time as well as place. I don’t believe kids think of the events that happen in those books as being all that relevant to themselves. But I wrote a scene for Stagefright that hinted at sexual assault, and I took it out. I wasn’t at all comfortable with it.

People assume I do a lot of research for my historical novels, and most of the time I do. I’m currently writing the fifth book in the Dragonkeeper series, and to be honest this one is not requiring me to do a lot of research. It follows on immediately after Blood Brothers so it’s set in the same time of political chaos known as the Sixteen Kingdoms era. I can rely on the research I did for the previous book, and in any case, there was no central government, in fact little government at all, so it’s a period that has left little trace. It’s also not an era that has attracted a lot of historians to publish glossy books, or even papers for academic journals, so the amount of material to research is minimal.

This means I have more freedom to make “novelistic conjecture”. I love this term. I heard it recently. It basically means making stuff up based on the few known facts, but in a way that’s not going to upset historians. So the historical novel I’m writing now is actually requiring less research than Stagefright did.

George’s bit at the end

Novelistic conjecture! I like that term, too. I’ll have to remember it. Thanks, Carole.

To find out more about Carole and her books, check out her website. It includes a section on research.

And don’t forget to check out my recent interview with Carole.

Catch ya later,  George

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A Stagefright interview with Carole Wilkinson

StagefrightMany years ago there was a book called Stagefright. It was about a group of high school kids putting on a musical version of Shakespear’s Richard the Third. It was the first novel from a then unknown author named Carole Wilkinson. Carole has since gone on to find success with her Dragonkeeper and Ramose novels, as well as with lots of other books. Now Stagefright is back! And Carole is here to talk about it.

I remember reading, and loving, the original version of Stagefright back in the mid 1990s. Could you tell us how this novel came to be ‘reborn’?

It was the first book of mine to be published. The original book was for an educational series called the Rave series, aimed at young teen readers and published by Longman. The person who commissioned the original book and edited it was Maryann Ballantyne. Time passed, things happened, and now Maryann is my publisher at Walker Books. She was moving offices and came across a copy of Stagefright and started to reread it. She said she still liked the book, it still made her laugh. She said she would like to republish it, but it needed to be updated, would I like to do it.

I think every writer would like the chance to rewrite their first book once they have a bit more experience. So I said Yes!

How did you go about the process of revising Stagefright?

The main story hasn’t changed a great deal. It’s still about a bunch of unsporty kids who go to a very sporty school who have to put on a school musical. They decide on a musical version of Shakespeare’s tragedy Richard the Third. I certainly didn’t start all over again. But I did a lot of rewriting.

There are seven characters, and I found I still liked them all. So I didn’t change them, just tinkered with their ethnicity a bit as they go to a multicultural school and the mix of places that migrants and refugees come from has changed over the years.

I did work on the subplots for each of the characters. I didn’t think I’d done a very good job of that the first time round. I really enjoyed that.

What’s the biggest difference between the original version and the new one?

The new version is almost 10,000 words longer than the original!

I wrote the original book about 17 years ago. Technology has changed, but that didn’t impact the story as much as I thought it would. Because the school is all about sport, technology wasn’t a big part of school life for the characters. The big change from then to now is mobile phones. No one had one in the original book. So I had to decide whether to mention them or have a school that banned them. In the end, I decided that if my main character was going to have a mobile phone it had to serve a purpose to the plot, so Velvet’s phone ended up with its own subplot.

The most surprising thing was that, in my view, things are much more conservative now than back in 1996. I did a lot of self-censoring. I had to clean up the language! And I made the main characters a year older so that I was comfortable with the level of romance that happens between the characters.

Were there any changes that your publisher/editor specifically requested?

No. It was up to me what to change.

Are there any other books/stories from your past that you would like to have a crack at redoing?

No. I think that was a one off. It was out of print and had only ever been sold into schools. All my other books are still in print.

Assuming it’s not TOP SECRET, what are you working on now?

I am working on the 5th Dragonkeeper book. This is the one that follows on after Blood Brothers. It has a working title … I haven’t told anyone what it is yet … will I tell you? Why not. It’s called Shadow Sister. My publisher might want to change it. I hope not.

Another Dragonkeeper book! Very exciting news! My daughter, who’s currently reading Blood Brothers, wants you to hurry up so she doesn’t have to wait too long. 😉

My thanks to Carole for answering my questions for today’s blog post. I can certainly understand her excitement about this release, as I went though a similar bookish rebirth last year with my YA short story collection, Life, Death and Detention (see “The long and winding road to a new edition”). And I can’t wait for her new Dragonkeeper novel.

Catch ya later,  George

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An Illustrated Guide to the Leviathan Series

AeronauticsThere were three books in Scott Westerfeld’s awesome YA steampunk series — Leviathan, Behemoth and Goliath. I loved these books and was very sorry to see the story end. So there was much joy when I discovered The Manual of Aeronautics.

Let me start off by saying that what I loved most about the Leviathan trilogy was the world that Westerfeld created. It is a fascinating steampunk, alternative history of the 1910s. But it isn’t entirely steampunk. Only half of his world relies on steam driven technology — nations that call themselves Clankers. The rest of this world is Darwinist, relying on genetically manipulated animals rather than machinery. Mr Westerfeld brought this divided world vividly to life in his three books. He was ably assisted in this task by the amazing accompanying illustrations from Keith Thompson. As I read the books I dearly wished for more of Mr Thompson’s work.

After reading Goliath I assumed it was all over. But it’s not — because August last year saw the release of The Manual of Aeronautics: An illustrated guide to the Leviathan series.

This book is a glorious showcase of Mr Thompson’s illustrations and Mr Westerfeld’s ingenious world — every page a full-colour glimpse into their imaginations. Clanker technology and Darwinist genetic creations are put on show, accompanied by some informational text. And the book concludes with a lovely quartet of portraits.

Whereas the illustrations were the accompaniment in the three novels, with this book it’s the other way around. Whilst you may only read the text once, the illustrations are worth going over and over again. So much beautiful detail!

If you liked the Leviathan novels and the world depicted therein, then YOU MUST get The Manual of Aeronautics.

Why not check out my reviews of the Leviathan trilogy:

Catch ya later,  George

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Continuum 9

Each year, Melbourne plays host to a speculative fiction / pop culture convention called Continuum. This year’s convention, Conintuum 9, will take place on 7–10 June at the Ether conference venue in the Melbourne CBD. You should all come along! Let me tell you why.

Continuum is rather unique. There’s nothing else quite like it here in Melbourne. In terms of spec fic and pop culture, there are the big regular events such as Armageddon and Supanova. But these events are expos rather than conventions and the focus tends to be towards film, television and comics. There are a huge number of stalls with shops, clubs and groups displaying their wares; there are a few talks and presentations from their multitude of guests; and there are long lines for autographs and photos. And there are thousands of people.

Continuum, on the other hand, is a convention rather than an expo. While there is usually a small dealers room, the focus of the event is on talks and panel discussions. These conventions cover various media as well as literary spec fic, but their guests of honour are usually authors. And these conventions are small. While Supanova is likely to have thousands of people trouping through each day, you’re only looking at a couple of hundred for Continuum. Apart from creating a more intimate atmosphere, this also allows for greater interaction between the attendees and the guests of honour. You don’t have to wait hours in an autograph queue. If you want your photo taken with a guest, you just approach and ask. And best of all, you can actually engage the guests in conversation. Which brings me to this year’s guests…

International guest of honour is US author, NK Jemisin. Her novels include The Inheritance Trilogy (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms and The Kingdom of Gods) and The Dreamblood Duet (The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun). She’s also had numerous short stories in publications such as Clarkesworld, Postscripts, Strange Horizons, and Baen’s Universe. Her work has been nominated for the Hugo (twice), the Nebula (twice), and the World Fantasy Award; shortlisted for the Crawford, the Gemmell Morningstar, and the Tiptree; and she has won a Locus Award for Best First Novel as well as the Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Award. NK is also a counseling psychologist, video gamer, anti-oppression activist, and blogger. Check out her website.

authorfinal-201x300   

Australian guest of honour is multi-award winning author/editor/publisher Paul Collins. Paul has written well over a hundred books including the Earthborn Wars trilogy, the Jelindal Chronicles (Drangonlinks, Dragonsight, Dragonfang and WarDragon ) and his latest series, The Maximus Black Files (Mole Hunt, Dyson’s Drop and the forthcoming Il Kendra). As an editor he has put together numerous anthologies including Metaworlds, Dreamworlds and the recent Children’s Book Council of Australia Notable book Trust Me Too. Somehow, between all his writing and editing, he also manages to run Ford Street Publishing which has released books such as Sean McMullen’s Changing Yesterday, The Key to Starveldt by Foz Meadows and my Gamers series (Gamers’ Quest, Gamers’ Challenge and the soon to be released Gamers’ Rebellion). Check out Paul’s website and the Ford Street Publishing website.

Paul Collins   

But there is more to Continuum that just the official guests. There are always a plethora of authors in attendance, appearing on panels, doing readings and generally chatting and mingling. At this year’s event, you’re likely to bump into people such as Trudi Canavan (The Black Magician trilogy), Narrelle M Harris (Walking Shadows), Sue Bursztynski (Wolfborn), Richard Harland (Worldshaker) or Kirstyn McDermott (Madigan Mine).

This year happens to be the 50th anniversary of a little television series called Doctor Who. So, of course, Continuum 9 will be marking the occasion with a number of panels devoted to this particular series. So that’s another great reason to come along. 🙂

I’ve been to every Continuum so far and I’ll certainly be at Continuum 9. I’m slated to do a reading, launch Gamers’ Rebellion and appear on a host of panels, including “Melbourne’s YA Novellists” and “So You Want To Get Published”. Can’t wait!

For more info on Continuum 9, check out their website. Hope to see you there.

Catch ya later,  George

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Back to Azkaban

Prisoner of AzkabanHarry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — I read it quite a number of years ago. So it’s been really interesting revisiting it, along with the other books in the series. But this time I also got to see it through the eyes of my ten-year-old daughter.

Last year, I started to read the Harry Potter books to my then nine-year-old daughter, Nykita (see: “Revisiting Harry” & “Opening the Chamber of Secrets… again”). She loved them, but didn’t want to go on to the third book, as she was worried that it might be a little too scary. So we decided to wait a while. But last month, after re-reading the first two books herself, she declared that she was ready for me to read the third book to her.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is an interesting book. The titular prisoner is Sirius Black, Harry’s godfather and the man who supposedly betrayed Harry’s parents to the dark wizard Voldemort.

This is the book where things start edge towards darkness, focussing a little bit more on the actual circumstances of the murder of Harry’s parents. It is also noteworthy as the only book in the series in which Voldemort doesn’t make an appearance.

The book holds together extremely well. It is, I think, the best of the first three. It is longer than the first two, but not so long as to be meandering and unwieldy. It is still a reasonably tight story, with a good balance of plot, character development and set-up for future books. I have a slight problem with the time travel stuff at the end, but I think that time travel is a problematic plot device at the best of times. In terms of the Harry Potter universe, after reading this book, one can’t help but wonder why time travel isn’t utilised again to solve future problems. Why? Because it is merely a plot device that is conveniently ignored thereafter by the author. But if you can overlook that, the book is an excellent read.

What I enjoyed most about reading this book to Nykita, were her reactions. They seemed more intense with this book. There were moments when she was literally bouncing up and down with excitement as I read. Or laughing uncontrollably. And towards the end, when Sirius Black had been revealed, she was huddled in bed, blanket over her head with just her eyes peeking out. The power of the written word. Pure magic!

As with the first two books, we followed up the reading with a viewing of the film. It is without a doubt, my least favourite of the films. This film has quite a different look and feel to the first two (probably due to a change of director), which I like — it results in a visually more striking film. But it doesn’t quite hang together for me in other ways. The pacing seems wrong. Some of the scenes struck me as a little forced. And it’s the first film after the death of Richard Harris, with Michael Gambon taking over the role of Dumbledore — and while he certainly settles into the role over the next few films, making the part truly his own, this first outing lacks the subtlety of Harris’s performance.

Now we’ve gone straight into Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Yes, she thinks it might be too scary… but she simply can’t bear to wait!

Catch ya later,  George

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Awards season

TROPHYIt seems that Awards Season is upon us! Everywhere you look there are prizes and honours up for grabs in the writing world — from the individual state awards to Australia-wide honours; from the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards to the Speech Pathology Awards. There are way too many of them for me to list here, so I’m just going to chat about a few of the ones that interest me most — those dealing with speculative fiction and writing for young people.

The most prestigious Australian awards in children’s writing are the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards. These are juried awards with appointed judges. Unusually, I have not read a single one of the books on this year’s shortlist, [hangs head in shame] although Doug MacLeod’s The Shiny Guys is sitting on my must-read-soon pile. I have, however, read a number of those on the Notables list. I am particularly pleased to see Ships in the Field by Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro, and Blood Brothers by Carole Wilkinson on the list. I reviewed both books last year (see my reviews: “Migrants and Carousels” and  “New Dragonkeeper”). Ships in the Field is an extraordinary picture book and Blood Brothers is another great addition to Wilkinson’s DragonKeeper series. And of course I’m very chuffed that Trust Me Too, an anthology edited by Paul Collins that includes a story from yours truly, is on there. Check out the shortlist and the list of Notable books.

Also in the area of books for young people, there are the Inkys (although the long list won’t be announced until June) and the YABBAs (although they also don’t take place until later in the year).

In the world of spec fic, the major ones are the Aurealis Awards and the Ditmar Awards. The Aurealis Awards are juried, while the Ditmars are decided by popular vote. The Aurealis Awards also have categories for children’s and YA fiction… which is BRILLIANT! Check out the shortlist.

The Ditmars are the Australia Science Fiction Achievement Awards, and include fan categories (for unpaid work) as well as professional categories. Check out the full shortlist.

And then we have the Chronos Awards, which are a Victorian state version of the Ditmars. I’m very pleased to see the shortlist includes Bread and Circuses by Felicity Dowker (see my review: “Bread and Circuses”) and Walking Shadows by Narrelle M. Harris (see my review: “Vampires in Melbourne”) — two of my favourite books from last year.

And I’ve got to mention that my other blog, Viewing Clutter (it’s a DVD and Blu-ray blog), has been nominated for “Best Fan Publication”. I’m rather chuffed about that! Check out the full shortlist.

Awards are interesting things. They mean a lot to some people and not much to others. Sometimes they can help bring attention to a particular book or author; sometimes they have very little impact. And often they are steeped in controversy. But all that aside, I think it’s rather nice to see authors and illustrators being given a little bit of recognition and encouragement. Check out the shortlists and if voting is involved, see if you’re eligible. It’s your chance to support the authors and books that you like reading.

Catch ya later,  George

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Rosie Black’s last stand

Rosie BlackDark Star, the third and final book in The Rosie Black Chronicles by Lara Morgan, came out last year. I read it then and have been avoiding the review ever since. I hate it when a book fails to meet my expectations, especially when it is still a good book. It leaves me floundering when it comes to writing the review. But I can avoid it no longer. So, here goes…

In Genesis, we met Rosie Black, an ordinary teenage girl in a future dystopian world, who was inadvertently drawn into a world of corporate espionage, trying to stop the powerful and corrupt Helios corporation. With the help of her pilot aunt, a feral teenager named Pip and a mysterious man name Riley, she destroyed the Helios base on Mars and put a huge dint in their plans. In Equinox she discovered that Helios had other plans on the boil, and Rosie was drawn into things yet again. Now, in Dark Star, Helios’s ultimate plan is revealed, along with the true power behind the corporation. And Rosie finds herself battling seemingly insurmountable odds.

It’s an action-packed book with lots of twists and turns. There are interesting characters and concepts. And the whole thing is rather well written. And yet, it just didn’t do it for me.

You may remember I had similar feelings about the first book (see: “The Rosie Black Chronicles”). But I enjoyed the second book a lot more (see: “Reviewing Rosie Black”). So I was really expecting to love the third book. Alas, I did not. I did enjoy it, in the same way that I enjoyed book 1, but I didn’t love it.

I think, in part, this comes down to the fact that I’ve never really found the lead character all that engaging or likeable. I was starting to warm to her by the end of book 2. But in this book, she goes through so much that she comes across as almost super-human… so you don’t get the sense of her being an ordinary teenager. It was all just a little too much. I also found some of the character motivations a little muddy this time around.

But if you’ve read the first two books, you do have to read this one… if for no other reason than to finally find out who’s behind Helios and what they are up to. I really did like all of that. And there are lots of other good things in the book, particularly in terms of certain supporting characters.

All up, Dark Star is a good book… just not as good as I was hoping it would be. It is still very much worth a read.

Catch ya later,  George

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Vanguard Prime to the rescue

GoldrushSuperheros, pop culture references and a fast-paced story combine to make an exciting and easy reading experience. What am I talking about? Goldrush — the first instalment in Steven Lochran’s Vanguard Prime series of teen novels.

Sam Lee was an ordinary teenager until he suddenly developed super powers. Now he finds himself recruited by the elite military superhero group, Vanguard Prime, and given the superhero name Goldrush. As he attempts to fit in and gain control of his new-found powers, he is thrown into the middle of a struggle to save the world from the ultimate super villain, the Overman.

Vangaurd Prime is obviously inspired by established comic book superheros, from The Avenger to X-Men. In fact, there are quite marked similarities to the latter —instead of ‘mutants’, the superheros and super villains are ‘neohumans’. There is certainly an element of the derivative and predictable in this book. But Lockran handles it all with such enthusiasm, humour and lightning speed, that it really doesn’t matter. In fact, a familiarity with the comic book heroes of the past helps make this book even more enjoyable.

There is a lot to like in this book. The humour is wonderful… particularly the way in which the superheroes are marketed to the public. Love it! Sam’s character development is good — from reluctant recruit to vital team member — making him sympathetic and likable. But it’s all the pop culture references I loved the most. My personal favourite is the Star Trek reference to ‘Kobeyashi’. The moment that name is mentioned, every die-hard Star Trek fan knows exactly what’s going down. And there are many other references, from the obvious to the obscure. Even the name of the lead character is reminiscent of Stan Lee, legendary comic book writer and co-creator of so many superheroes, including the X-Men.

The narrative is divided between first-person present tense (for Sam) and third-person present tense. I’ve got to admit to not particularly liking this. I’m not a fan of present tense. I don’t mind it for first-person narrative where everything is from a particular character’s point of view, and that character’s inner thought processes are vital to the story … but I find it jarring in third-person. I can see why the author used it, as it does have immediacy and impact, but I’m still not keen on it. I’m sure that not all readers will share my bias, so please don’t let it put you off. I did get used to it as the story went along.

All up, Goldrush is a fun and exciting read. I’ll certainly be ordering the next instalment, Wild Card.

Catch ya later,  George

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Hey Baby!

Hey BabyCombine some adorably cute animal photos with some lovely, heartfelt, poetic text. What do you get? Corinne Fenton’s new picture book, Hey Baby!. Actually, it came out late last year… I’m just a little behind the times. 😉

My review copy arrived last year and I immediately read the book to my then three-year-old daughter (now four), Lexi. She loved it! And the book promptly disappeared into her collection. So, when I sat down to write the review… I couldn’t find the book. But a couple of days ago, when I asked Lexi what she wanted as her bed-time story that evening, she came running up to me with Hey Baby!. I read it to her and we enjoyed it all over again. But this time I made sure to take it with me.

Corinne Fenton (author of books such as Flame Stands Waiting and Queenie) has written a delightful message to a newborn baby. It is only two sentences long — but what absolutely perfect sentences they are. Each word is just right. And together they convey such emotion. I defy any parent to read this book and not connect with these words. Writing such a short book is by no means an easy task. Words must be chosen oh so carefully. So hats off to Corinne for the words she chose.

I’m not normally a fan of picture books that throw together a bunch of stock photos. But this book pulls it off. They are well chosen photos. Lexi certainly loved them. She made sure that I didn’t turn the pages too fast, as she wanted to name each of the animals and talk about what they were doing.

My only negative comment is the presentation of four of the photos. Most of the photos, including those on the front and back cover, have the animals on a white background. No distractions — the reader’s attention focussed directly onto the animals. But four of the photos are presented differently, with animals in situ. They are a bit jarring and lack the impact of the other photos. The graphic designer’s choice, perhaps? (OW! My graphic designer wife just hit me.) But this is a minor quibble. It’s still a pretty awesome book.

Okay… now that I’ve finished the review I can give the book back to Lexi. 🙂

Catch ya later,  George

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iPad reading

Let me begin by saying that I am a devoted fan of the old fashioned, hard-copy book made from the remains of dead trees. I love the feel of them. I love the whole tactile experience of holding them. And yes, I love the smell of them (both the musty old book smell and the first-opened new book smell). But I recently used an iPad for some reading. So, of course, here I am telling you about it.

iPad

I have not had any great desire to move into the digital realm for my reading pleasure. I do enough onscreen reading on my laptop for research. But…

Last Christmas we bought an iPad as a family present — mostly because my daughters have been wanting one ever since they played some games on one at a friend’s place. In the months since our acquisition of this device — this handy-dandy, compact marvel of technology — it has been mostly used for game-playing by my daughters and Pinteresting by my wife. Although I’ve occasionally used it to IMDB an actor while watching television, or even play the odd game of Chicken Invaders (Yes, there really is a game called Chicken Invaders… go look it up. It’s rather awesome!), I’ve done little else with the device.

And then, last month a friend sent me a PDF of his upcoming book, asking if I would consider reading it and providing a back cover quote (I’ll blog about this when the book has been released). I decided this was the time to finally make proper use of the iPad. I put the PDF onto the device and off I went… reading!

So… what was my first iPad reading experience like? It was okay.

On the positive side —

  • I didn’t have to bother with print-outs.
  • It remembered where I was up to each time I picked it up.
  • I didn’t need to use my newly acquired reading glasses (yes folks… I’m getting old).

On the negative side —

  • It was heavier and more cumbersome than a paperback (not wonderfully comfortable for reading in bed).
  • The backlit screen was not as comfortable to read as print on paper.
  • And, of course, it didn’t feel or smell like a proper book.

Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the book, the iPad reading experience felt more like work than pleasure. I realise that this is due to my own subconscious associations — that is:

Computer screen = work

Print book = pleasure

This is something that will, undoubtedly, change over time. Apparently you can teach an old dog new tricks… it just takes longer.

IMG_1478Overall, I was not emotionally scarred by the experience as I initially feared I might be. And, in fact, I went back for more. When my publisher sent me a PDF proof of my upcoming novel (Gamers’ Rebellion — out in June. Remember to buy a copy!), I immediately stuck it onto the iPad rather than printing it out. It turned out to be a good way of proof-reading it.

So, I guess there is hope for me in the world of digital reading. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll even buy an eReader.

Catch ya later,  George

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Launching Gracie and Josh

On Saturday I went to Richmond Library for the launch of a rather amazing new picture book, Gracie and Josh. It was a launch that had everything — lots of people, a fabulous book, a chocolate cake and even Hazel Edwards. What more could you want?

Gracie and Josh

Gracie and Josh is written by Susanne Gervay and illustrated by Serena Geddes. The book was ably launched by Hazel Edwards, no stranger to picture books herself, having written the classic There’s a Hippopotamus On Our Roof Eating Cake. She paid tribute not only to the author and illustrator, but also to the publisher, Ford Street Publishing, for taking a risk on such book. Also speaking at the launch was a representative of Variety: The Children’s Charity, which has endorsed this book.

Hazel conducts the launch

Gracie and Josh is about a little girl and her older brother. Josh has cancer and sometimes has to go to hospital and sometimes has bad weeks when he can’t get out of bed. Despite this, the book is not at all a downer. It is joyful and hopeful and fun and utterly delightful. It focusses on the relationship between Josh and Gracie rather than on Josh’s illness — in fact, the word ‘cancer’ is never actually used in the text.

The illustrations are beautiful. They complement the text and ‘say’ things that are not said with the words. Josh’s lack of hair makes his illness obvious without the need for using the word ‘cancer’. Gracie’s expression when Josh’s beanie falls off, says so much about her feelings for her brother without the need to specify them with words. This book is a perfect combination of words and pictures, each working with the other rather than just mirroring.

This book works on a couple of different levels, very aptly demonstrated by my daughters. While at the launch, my elder daughter read the book to her younger sister. Lexi is four years old, and although she understood that Josh was sick, she didn’t really understand the gravity of that situation. She just enjoyed the fun aspects of the story and the relationship between the siblings. Nykita is almost ten, and she did understand the implications of Josh’s illness. But still, the joy in the story is what she took away from it.

Nykita and Lexi

Gracie and Josh is a really lovely book. I heard much talk at the launch about how it would make a good gift for kids who have ill family members. And yes, that is true. But I think it has much wider appeal. As I wrote earlier, it is the love shared by siblings that is the focus of the story. And love is universal.

Catch ya later,  George

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EJ12: Girl Hero

Big BrotherEmma Jacks is a schoolgirl. She’s also a special agent in the Under 12s division of the super-secret organisation called SHINE. Codename — EJ12. Mission —stop the evil plans of the nefarious organisation known as SHADOW.

EJ12: Girl Hero is a series of kids’ books by Susannah McFarlane. My nine-year-old daughter Nykita loves these books. She has read, re-read and re-read again the first 14 books, and is eagerly awaiting the arrival of the latest in the series — Big Brother.

Not only has Nykita been re-reading these books, she’s been getting me to read them to her as well. She loves being read to and says she often discovers new things in a book when it is read to her out loud. So far, I’ve read the first five books to her:

EJ12

I’ve got to admit that I was less than enamoured with the books when we started. The first few are very formulaic — not only in story structure but also in character development. In each instalment, Emma overcomes a personal fear/problem thanks to the SHINE mission she is assigned to. There is also a lot of repetition from one book to the next. Each book contains back-story explanations so that it can be read in isolation. Great in terms of marketing. Not so great if you’re reading one book after the other in quick succession. If I have to read one more rundown of how the SHINE mission transport tube works, I may very well scream.

I also thought the editing was a little below par, with certain words being overused and often showing up multiple times in the one paragraph. It’s not something that Nykita noticed, but I found it rather awkward for reading out loud.

Having said all this, the books have started to grow on me. I’ve gotten to know the characters and have become invested in their adventures. And book 5, Choc Shock, has broken the formula a little. It also introduces my favourite villain thus far — the chocolate obsessed, French pastry chef, Madame Ombre. (I love reading her dialogue, as I get to do a really bad French accent!)

The books do have a great sense of fun and adventure. I particularly like the playful codenames that many of the grown-up agents have. The scientist, for example, is called IQ400.

Perhaps the best thing about the books is that Emma Jacks is a wonderfully positive role model for young girls. She faces ordinary, everyday problems (from mean girls at school to a lack of self confidence) as well as fantastical spy problems. But she always manages to work her way through them, usually with a little help from her friends.

After book 5, Nykita and I have taken a break to read some other books (more on them later). But I’ve got to say, I am actually looking forward to reading the next instalment of EJ12’s adventures — On The Ball.

Oh, and there’s a rather cool website for EJ12 fans — check it out!

Catch ya later,  George

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Outside In with Robert Smith?

Outside InRobert Smith? — the man with the question mark in his name. He’s an academic, he’s an author, he’s an editor and he’s a Doctor Who fan. His books include Braaaiiinnnsss: From Academics to Zombies, Modelling Disease Ecology with Mathematics and Who Is The Doctor (co-written with Graeme Burk). And most recently, he’s edited the mammoth essay anthology, Outside In: 160 New Perspectives on 160 Classic Doctor Who Stories by 160 Writers. Robert was kind enough to stop by and answer a few questions for me…

How did Outside In come about?

It really started with the “say something different” idea.

I was editing the Doctor Who Ratings Guide one day when I was reading a review of “The Seeds of Doom” by Mike Morris (the one that ended up in the book). It was such a radical take on the story that I wondered if I could find equally radical takes on all the stories. The DWRG has almost 8000 reviews, so at first I figured I could just trawl through that and surely find at least one review per story that said something different?

Sadly, the short answer was no. While there were a few that fit the bill, I quickly realised that there was no way I could fulfil this mandate just from my own website. So I started to look further afield.

And then I had the wild thought of doing 160 different writers. It had never been done before; indeed, I’d been responsible for the most diverse collection of Doctor Who essays already: Time Unincorporated 2, which had about 48 writers. This was tripling it, which seemed kind of foolish… but I also liked the challenge it presented. (I have a PhD in mathematics, so I can kind of hold this sort of complexity in my head.)

Meanwhile, I also heard on the grapevine that Arnold Blumberg was setting up a new press (ATB Publishing). Arnold was a bit unconvinced, because things on his end were really only in the planning stages. And I ended up running far ahead of the business side of things, so it felt a bit as though we were making things up as we went along. But having a definitive goal probably helped to force everything to come together.

“160 New Perspectives on 160 Classic Doctor Who Stories by 160 Writers”. Was it difficult to wrangle so many writers?

Yes and no. At first, I didn’t think I’d be able to pull it off, so I had several writers on standby to contribute further pieces. But then word of mouth helped, as good writers were able to recommend other good writers and then I got into the groove of recruiting people. Conventions helped a lot, because I just walked around with a sheet of paper with the last 20 or so stories on it and asked people if they had any radical takes on the stories in question. Almost everyone did!

I did find several brilliant pieces, but couldn’t locate the writers. I chased one guy through all the Coronation St forums for his review of “The Dominators”, but then the trail went cold, so I had to look elsewhere. Fortunately, my convention asking led to Bill Evenson’s hilarious take on the story — still my favourite piece in the collection — so it worked out in the end.

But it was also a bit of a wild ride. One of the authors demanded I not change even a single comma, not even the typo we both agreed was there. Another never sent my personal copy of the DVD back to me. I also got a bit of a reputation as a hard-sell after (entirely accurate) rumours spread that I was cracking the whip on several pieces that weren’t up to scratch. Stephanie Blumberg — the boss’s wife, incidentally! — sent me her “Silver Nemesis” piece with such fear in the email I thought she was going to have a meltdown. (Luckily, I loved it outright, so she needn’t have worried.)

But one of the things I’m so proud of is just how many new voices there are. For so many people, this is their first published work and I think that’s hugely important. So much of Doctor Who output, from the TV series to Big Finish, is jobs for the boys, with the powers that be recruiting the same old names on the entirely reasonable grounds that they can trust them to produce good stuff. I really wanted to break that cycle, which required a lot of work on my part, but the payoff was enormous.

Did you have any trouble finding writers to cover all the stories?

Finding writers was both a pleasure and an incredible challenge. I ran out of my own contacts after about 50 people, which put me in a bit of a bind. So I spent ages trawling the internet for good reviews, often striking gold on the 1,900th entry in Google. When you’ve spent two days searching for a review of “The Mutants” that doesn’t say the same old thing, the pleasure when you find exactly what you’re looking for is immense. I think I shouted for joy when I stumbled upon Philip Sandifer’s piece, never having heard of his blog before (although it’s now fairly famous).

And as I started to recruit more original writers, I simply asked them for recommendations. So it spread virally, which is something I know more than a little about, thanks to my day job. (There are a surprising number of siblings in the list, as well as a number of husband and wife teams.) The only time I sat down and thought about specific names was when I looked through the table of contents of Chicks Dig Time Lords for names of good writers. The rest was very organic.

It was actually Graeme Burk who suggested I recruit a majority of original pieces. Originally I was going to do mostly reprints, because I was worried about the budget. But then I came up with the charity idea and that helped focus things: I realised that one of the strengths of the book was that, as a group, we were much stronger than as individuals. Given that everyone — myself, Arnold and all the writers bar two whom I won’t name — donated their fees to charity, it meant we were working for something bigger than just another Doctor Who non-fiction guide.

A lot of the book’s genesis thus coasted on goodwill. I was especially pleased that the professional writers involved were happy to donate to charity, even though this is their livelihood. And some of these were just brilliant: Andrew Cartmel’s letter to me regarding “Talons of Weng-Chiang” made me laugh out loud, while David Howe stepped up very late in the day with a sweet piece on “The Mythmakers” and a photo to boot.

And then Anthony Wilson — one of the unsung heroes of Doctor Who nonfiction writing — came along and proofread the book and told me to throw away about 15 pieces and get the authors to rework about as many again. He grasped the concept of the book intuitively and had enough distance to simply tell me “no” on a number of occasions. Some of the best pieces in the book — Piers Beckley’s Shakespearen play, Stuart Milne’s letter to the reader, Stuart Douglas’s alien flow chart — are a direct result of Anthony. The only credit I give myself on this is that I wasn’t precious about anything and deferred to his judgement entirely!

What is it about Doctor Who that inspired you to take on such a huge project?

It’s the sheer diversity of talent in fandom that continues to inspire me. Go to any gathering of Doctor Who fans, even when you don’t know anyone there, and you’ll hear fascinating opinions, vociferous disagreements and new insights on decades-old stories. You hear this at conventions, at pubs and on the internet. It continually amazes me just how thoughtful and articulate Doctor Who fans can be.

So that really made my job easy. The technical accomplishment of 160 writers was a cute gimmick, but what really makes the book shine is the fact that everyone’s saying something different. (Sometimes very  different: the other proofreader, Paul Simpson, complained that Lindy Orthia’s intense academic dissection of “Ghost Light” gave him whiplash after Sean Twist’s hilarious within-text take on “Battlefield”.) It meant I really just had to sit back and watch everyone bring their A-game to the table. That made it a joy to assemble and then edit.

You’ve written about Doctor Who, zombies and even Justin Bieber. What’s next?

I’m going to create a mathematical model of a Monoid invasion. You heard it here first.

Thank you Robert. That was a rather lengthy interview, so I won’t add anything beyond…

Catch ya later,  George

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Everyone digs Time Lords

Chicks Dig Time LordsI may have already mentioned that 2013 is the 50th anniversary of a little TV show called Doctor Who. Every year there seems to be more and more books related to the series being published, and this year is seeing a Doctor Who publishing explosion. In addition to all the official licensed books, there are also quite a lot of unlicensed publications about the show.

Perhaps the most well known of these unofficial Doctor Who books is Chicks Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who By The Women Who Love It. And that title says it all, really — it’s a collection of essays about the series by women. It was a hugely popular book and it won a HUGO award in 2011 for Best Related Work. In fact, it has been so successful, that it spawned two other books — Chicks Unravel Time: Women Journey Through Every Season of Doctor Who and Queers Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans Who Love It.

Running Through CorridorsThe three above books are all from Mad Norwegian Press, who have also published a six-book series of guides to the classic series (About Time) as well as a history of the series, guides to the novels and even a fanzine archive. And Running Through Corridors: Rob and Toby’s Marathon Watch of Doctor Who. The two authors are Doctor Who fans who have had some official connection to the series. Robert Shearman, of course, wrote “Dalek” for the first season of the revived series in 2005. Toby Hadoke is a comedian who has had much success with his one-man show, Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf. He has also been a moderator on many a Doctor Who DVD commentary. Rob and Toby are also friends. And the two of them embarked on the mammoth task of watching every episode of Doctor Who, two eps a day, every day, from the show’s start in 1963 to David Tennant’s final episode in 2010. They have chronicled their epic viewing as a set of literary conversations in a series of books. Volume 1: The 60s is out, with Volumes 2 and 3 coming soon.

But there are many other books out there.

Behind the Sofa: Celebrity Memories Of Doctor Who
Contributors include Bill Oddie, Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Ross and Rhys Thomas, along with loads of other writers, comedians, actors and even politicians. 100% of the book royalties, proceeds and net profit are being donated to Alzheimer’s Research UK.

Outside In: 160 New Perspectives on 160 Classic Doctor Who Stories by 160 Writers
Each story from the classic series has an essay from a different writer. The thing about this book is that every author had to find a unique approach to the story s/he was writing about. So you have everything from scripts to letters to Shakespearean verse. I’ve got an essay in this book — it’s about the William Hartnell story “The Reign of Terror”, and I’ve written it as a Sherlock Holmes mystery.

There are many more books out there — from Triumph of a Time Lord: Regenerating Doctor Who in the Twenty-first Century to Dining with the Doctor: The Unauthorized Whovian Cookbook. And there are many more due to make an appearance later this year, including a few that I’ve written for. [For a quick roundup of my writing about Doctor Who, check out my personal blog.)

It seems like the publishing world is obsessed with Doctor Who at the moment. And I rather like that. 🙂

Catch ya later,  George

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Neil Gaiman’s sneezy picture book

My youngest daughter just got given a copy of Neil Gaiman’s new picture book, Chu’s Day, for her birthday. I loved it so much, that I had to write about it immediately.

Chu's Day

Neil Gaiman is no stranger to books in which text and graphics combine to tell a story. After all, he made his name writing comics and graphic novels such a Sandman and Books of Magic. And he’s gone on to write illustrated children’s books such as The Dangerous Alphabet (illustrated by Gris Grimly) and the wonderful The Wolves in the Walls (illustrated by Dave McKean). But I think this must be his first book for much younger kids (please shout me down and correct me in the comments section, if I’m wrong about this).

Chu’s Day is a story about a little panda with a big sneeze. And it is a charming book. It is cute; it is clever; it is simple; and is utterly delightful.

Gaimen’s text is superb with its play on words and sounds. Chu’s Day sounds like Tuesday, but also alludes to the sound of a sneeze — Aaaachooooooooo! But just as Gaiman knows well how to use words, he also knows how to not use them. So many picture books are overly wordy, with the text and pictures telling the reader exactly the same thing. Not so with this book. Gaiman holds back, allowing the pictures to add to the story — to show the reader things that are not said. Nowhere does the text actually describe the outcome of Chu’s big sneeze — that is all done with the illustrations. This allows preschoolers to discover important elements of the story for themselves (without having to have all the revelations read to them).

And the illustrations by Adam Rex are BEAUTIFUL! There is so much to look at on every page. The detail, particularly in the library and the circus, is glorious. You could ignore the words and just stare at these pictures for ages.

I’m being very effusive about this book, but it is everything a good young children’s picture book should be — engaging text; gorgeous illustrations; and a touch of wit to keep the parents amused.

Catch ya later,  George

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The Lost Tail picture book

The Lost TailA really interesting picture book made its way onto my review pile recently. It combines a simple story with the cultural heritage of the Papua New Guinea tribes. The Lost Tail is written by Patricia Bernard and illustrated by Tricia Oktober.

This picture book is set against the backdrop of the Goroka Show, a yearly tribal cultural festival in Papua New Guinea. Each year, tribes from across the country come together to celebrate their culture with displays of music, dance and rituals. Nura is a young boy and a member of the Bundi Boys dance group that is going to attend the Goroka Show and perform their snake dance. As the smallest member of the group, Naru holds up the tail of the long back snake made of straw and cloth that they use in the dance.

The Lost Tail tells the story of Naru’s journey to the festival, and then of how he loses and finds the rest of the group at the Show… just in time for their performance. It’s a very simple story, but one that allows for the inclusion of much cultural detail. As Naru travels to the Show, he remembers his mother’s words, telling him about his tribe’s mythology. And when he is lost at the Show, he encounters many other people, thus introducing the reader to ghost dancers, chicken dancers, warriors and beauty queens. This story is a journey of discovery for the reader.

Bernard’s words are straightforward and to the point. Oktober’s illustrations are lovely and colourful. They work well together.

The back cover includes a bit of information about the Goroka Show, but not nearly enough. I was left wanting to know more about the Show and about the tribes of Papua New Guinea. I think the book would have benefited from a page or two of non-fiction at the end.

Young kids are likely to enjoy the simple story and colourful pictures, but there is also material for older readers to dwell on.

Catch ya later,  George

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Doctor Who and the Daemons

The DaemonsIn my last post, I wrote about The Diary of a Dr Who Addict by Paul Margs. In that book, the protagonist, David, mentions that his favourite of the Doctor Who novelisations (indeed, he says “Best book ever. No contest.”) is Doctor Who and the Daemons. So, of course, I had to re-read it… and tell you about it.

I used to read the Doctor Who novelisations all the time as a teenager — read and re-read and re-read — until my copies were tattered and dog-eared. Now, as an adult, I tend not to re-read books all that often. So it was rather nice to take a little nostalgic wander and re-read Doctor Who and the Daemons — my first novelisation re-read since Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth and Doctor Who and the Cave-monsters back in 2011 (see “Daleks and Cave-monsters”).

In this adventure, the third Doctor and his assistant, Jo Grant, head to the small town of Devil’s End, where an archaeological dig is about to unleash a demon. Of course it’s not really the occult at work — it’s an ancient alien science with the Doctor’s old enemy, the Master, at the helm.

The book is written by Barry Letts, one-time producer of the series and the co-scriptwriter of the televised story (using a pseudonym).

In all honesty, I don’t think this is the best of the novelisations. In fact, I thought it was a tad pedestrian, adding little to the on screen story (which I reviewed last year) beyond enhancing the spectacle of scenes that suffered from lack of special effects — the flying gargoyle chief amongst them. While I enjoyed reading the book, I much preferred Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth and Doctor Who and the Cave-monsters. All up, this book is not as good as the televised story, which has bucket-loads of atmosphere and visual style.

One of the charming things about the old Doctor Who novelisations is that some of them had black and white internal illustrations. Such is the case with Doctor Who and the Daemons, which has illustrations by Alan Willow.

The Daemons 2

While Doctor Who and the Daemons may not be the “best book ever”, it has made me yearn to dig out a few more of the old novelisations and give then another airing. But which one to start with?

Unfortunately Doctor Who and the Daemons is not currently in print. But fear not… because it is available as an audio book. And it’s read by Barry Letts! Now that I’ve re-read my print copy, I’m tempted to get a copy of the audio book to see how it compares.

Catch ya later,  George

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The Diary of a Dr Who Addict

The Diary of a Dr Who AddictHow could I possibly come across a book called The Diary of a Dr Who Addict and not want to read it immediately? After all, I was, am and will always be, a Doctor Who addict. So, a novel about a kid with a similar obsession just had to be read. The fact that it was written by Paul Margs, who has also written Doctor Who books, made it even more appealing.

Set in 1982, The Diary of a Dr Who Addict is a coming of age story — a little one-year slice from the life of a boy named David at a crucial time in his growing up. He is about to become a teenager. He is about to start high school. And most important of all, he is about to watch season 19 of Doctor Who — the season in which Peter Davison took over the role of the Doctor from Tom Baker, who had held it for a marathon run of seven years.

David is a boy who relates so much of his life and experiences to his favourite television series. So there are lots of references to Doctor Who, both obvious and subtle. This includes what is perhaps the best Doctor Who to real-life comparison ever… when talking about his love of books and reading, David says:

“Books are bigger on the inside than on the out, just like a police box.”

Truer words were never written.

But there is a lot more to this book than Doctor Who. It is also a story about growing up, about accepting who you are and about finding your place in life. Most importantly, it is about the realisation that you don’t have to give up everything from your childhood in order to grow up.

I found reading this book to be an incredibly personal experience. Firstly, because it is such an intimate account of David’s thoughts and feelings about so many things (and one gets the feeling that there is a lot of Paul Margs in David). And secondly, because I saw so much of myself in David. In 1982, I was 14… so a little older than David. But I felt the same excitement as him over the introduction of Peter Davison. I too had read all about the new season of Doctor Who and eagerly awaited it, wondering what this new Doctor would be like… talking about it incessantly. I too, read and collected the series novelisations. There are so many little things that I could relate to as I read this book — from Doctor Who, to the excitement of a first video cassette recorder, to a growing interest in writing. Yes, just like David, I wrote my own Doctor Who stories as a kid.

But I also related to David’s feelings of isolation. I too often felt different and out of place, even though not always in the same way as him. I was a strange nerdy kid who preferred books and tv to playing sports. I wrote stories. I was quiet and socially awkward. I thought Doctor Who was the greatest thing EVER!

Just as I eventually grew up and found my place in the world, I finished The Diary of a Dr Who Addict feeling certain that David would as well.

The Diary of a Dr Who Addict is a lovely, thoughtful, touching, amusing, life-affirming, joyful read. And it has shot up into my list of all-time favourite books.

One final thing. Towards the end of the book, David reveals that, in his opinion, the Doctor Who and the Daemons novelisation is the “Best book ever. No contest.” So, of course, as soon as I finished The Diary of a Dr Who Addict, I went over to my Doctor Who bookcase and pulled out my battered old copy of Doctor Who and the Daemons. But I’ll tell you about that in my next post.

Catch ya later,  George

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Vampires in Melbourne

9780987271761It’s been a long time coming, but it’s finally here. Well, actually, it was here in June last year. I’ve just been a little slow in getting around to writing about it. 🙂 Walking Shadows, the sequel to Narrelle M Harris’s 2007 vampire novel, The Opposite of Life, was released in June last year. It has certainly been worth the wait.

The Opposite of Life was a vampire novel with a difference (see my review). It introduced readers to Lissa the librarian, who has a knack for finding herself in the wrong place at the wrong time, and Gary, the podgy, Hawaiian-shirt wearing, daggy vampire. After solving the mystery behind a killing spree in that novel, there was a promise of their return. And so we waited.

They did return briefly in January 2012 with a short story, “Showtime”, published in a collection of the same name (see “Showtime”). But now finally, we have a new novel. This time around Lissa and Gary have to deal with vampire hunters.

Walking Shadows has everything that made The Opposite of Life such a great read. The Melbourne setting is vivid and vibrant (particularly if you happen to know the city), but this time we also venture out to Sovereign Hill, which is a real treat. The main characters are as interesting and flawed and real as ever, even those who are not human anymore.

As with the first novel, this one is never quite what you expect it to be — which is wonderful and makes for exciting reading. Even those few plot elements that seem predictable, end up going in unexpected directions.

As is often the case with Harris’s writing, there is an emphasis on family — its importance; its inescapable nature; and often, the pain that comes with it. These elements are evident even in the characters who have no family — the absence of family being as important to a character’s makeup as the presence of a dysfunctional family.

Vampires, of course, are the main focus of the story — the dangerous, blood-sucking, neck-biting variety rather than the sparkly, angst-ridden sort. But Harris has given us her own unique take on the mythical creatures. I particularly love the fact that they lose the ability to learn after they are turned and that blood is not a necessity to them — rather it is something akin to a drug that makes then feel almost human for a short time.

It’s no secret that I am a fan of Harris’s writing (and, by the way, I would highly recommend you checking out her early crime novellas Fly By Night and Sacrifice, which are available as e-books). I think this is a great book. If you like vampires, chances are you will love this book. If you’re not really into vampires, give this book a try anyway as an example of a non-clichéd approach to the genre.

I hope I don’t have to wait too long for the next instalment in the adventures of Lissa and Gary.

Catch ya later,  George

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Alison Goodman and Eon

EonAlison Goodman. It’s a name you hear often, usually in conjunction with phrases like “award winning” and “best selling”. She is, of course, the author of Eon, Eona and the newly released A New Kind of Death. A few months ago, I read her novel Eon, and I can certainly understand what all the fuss is about.

I first met Alison at Continuum 8 in June 2012. [see “The upcoming Nat Con”] She was one of the guests of honour. I went along to her guest of honour speech and I was also on a couple of panels with her. At that stage, I had never read any of her work. I was so impressed by her, that after the convention was over I immediately hopped online and bought a Alison Goodmancouple of her books. Eon is the first of them that I’ve read. I’ve got the sequel, Eona, as well as Singing the Dogstar Blues and A New Kind of Death on my must-read-soon pile. In fact, I ended up going along to the launch of A New Kind of Death in December last year.

I’ve got to say that I was completely blown away by Eon. The breadth and scope of the world is breathtaking, and the characters are compelling. Even several months after having read the novel, the characters still live and breathe in my mind. That is the mark of a truly outstanding book.

Perhaps what I enjoyed most about this book is that it was nothing like what I expected. Judging by the cover, I thought I would get a typical fantasy epic in which warriors fought dragons. I was wrong. Dragons are an integral part of the story — but they are not ‘ordinary’ physical dragons (and I won’t say more than that on the subject, for fear of spoilers). Eon is also a story of political intrigues, relationships and power struggles. It is a story of one girl’s fight against the odds in a society heavily weighted against her. And all this is set in a world that strikes me as an alternative universe ancient China.

I also want to mention the ‘girl disguised as a boy’ plot device (that’s not much of a spoiler as it is revealed early on). This is a stock standard device often used by authors of YA fiction (would you believe that I’m even considering it for a future project), and one that is in danger of being a little predictable and passé. But it is used to excellent effect in Eon and is woven through the plot with many subtleties.

Final word: Brilliant! Go read it — NOW!

Blatant self-promotional bit at the end
(WARNING! WARNING! Stop reading now if self-promotion offends you. 🙂 )

Alison Goodman was kind enough to launch my latest book, Life, Death and Detention, last year. I’ve blogged about it before, but in case you missed it, here’s the vid…

Catch ya later,  George

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NYR12 and beyond

NYR12Those of you who read my last post about the year that was 2012, may have notice something missing. I made no mention about the National Year of Reading (NYR12). That’s because I figured it deserved its very own post. So here goes…

2012 was the National Year of Reading in Australia. It was a national campaign to promote reading and to get people enthused about it. It was a HUGE success, with over 4,000 events and activities held across the country. There were over 50 ambassadors (including authors, politicians, sports people and other celebrities), lead by patron William McInnes, who helped spread the word. In addition to the ambassadors there was also a large group of official “friends”, of which I was lucky to be one.

For me, the NYR12 highlight was getting to be the Patron Reading Ambassador for Mentone Grammar’s NYR12 celebrations. Mentone Grammar is my old school, and I was delighted when they asked me to be involved with their year-long programme of reading events. I got to launch things in February with a ribbon cutting ceremony. Yes, I got to actually cut a ribbon with the Principal, Mal Cater. I had never cut an official ribbon before. It was rather exciting! 🙂

MG_NYRopening

And then things finished up in December with a closing event to celebrate the 48 National Year of Reading activities and events that were held at the school that year. 48! At just one school! BRILLIANT! These included author visits, writing workshops, book launches, competitions and swap meets. No ribbon cutting this time (although I did wear my old school uniform), but a promise to not let the end of 2012 mean the end of reading events. The library staff were all very keen to keep things going into 2013.

MG_NYRclosing

And I think that this is NYR12’s greatest achievement. As people have enjoyed the events and promotions throughout the year of 2012, they have come to realise that we don’t actually need an official campaign in order to do this sort of stuff. Books and reading are worth promoting and enjoying and being enthused over, no matter what year it is. And I think that 2013 will continue to see a stream of bookish events all across the country.

Congratulations to everyone who took part in the National Year of Reading activities in 2012. Roll on 2013!

Catch ya later,  George

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The year that was 2012

Life, Death and Detention

It’s nine days into the new year and about time for me to look back at the year that was 2012. It was a good year for me — lots of great books read and lots of stuff written. Let me tell you about it all. Well, as much as will fit into this post!

In terms of publishing, I had three school readers with Macmillan Education. But the big thing for me in 2012 was the release of Life, Death and Detention [you can read my posts about it here and here]. Originally published in 1999, it was so nice to have the book back in circulation with a new cover, a new publisher (Morris Publishing Australia) and updated stories. It was also a real buzz having Alison Goodman (author of Eon and Eona) launch the book for me at my old school, Mentone Grammar.

I also had an essay published in the Doctor Who book, Outside In. But more on that in a future post.

I did quite a bit of writing in the past year. As well as numerous school readers, articles and short stories, I wrote the third Gamers novel, Gamers’ Rebellion. I handed it in on 28 December. I’m now nervously awaiting editorial feedback!

I had more speaking gigs during 2012 than I have ever had before. Lots of individual schools and libraries, but I also did a few festivals and a four-day tour of country schools [see: “My rock star moment”]. I really enjoyed this and I hope to do lots more school visits during 2013.

And then, of course, there was all the reading. I did manage to keep my 2011/2012 New Years resolution of reading more [see: “I will…”]. Here are my reading highlights of 2012, in no particular order…

Quite a lot of highlights in my 2012 reading. I did read more than in the previous year, but I was also a little more picky about what I read. Feel free to share your favourite 2012 reads in the comments section below.

I am now looking forward to a whole new year of reading and writing. Roll on 2013!

Catch ya later,  George

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The Next Big Thing — Michelle Heeter

Rigs Crossing“The Next Big Thing” — Have you all heard about it? It’s a chain blog post that’s doing the rounds at the moment. Actually, it’s been around quite a while and is still going strong. It’s ten questions that are an opportunity for writers to tell people about their next project — a completed book about to be published, a work in progress or simply an idea about to be embarked upon. Writers from all over the world have been taking part and posting each Wednesday.

It was Sandy Fussell (author of the Samurai Kids books) who sent it on to me. I blogged my answers last Wednesday on my personal blog (here), talking about my soon to be published third Gamers novel, Gamers’ Rebellion. I then passed the invitation on to Sue Bursztynski, Simon Haynes and Michelle Heeter. Unfortunately, Michelle doesn’t have a blog, so I offered to host her Next Big Thing here.

Michele is the author of the recently released YA novel Riggs Crossing. I reviewed that book a little while ago (see review). And now, here are Michelle’s Next Big Thing answers…

1. What is the [working] title of your next book?

Ripped.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

My first novel, Riggs Crossing, is a Young Adult novel that deals with a teenager whose father is a professional marijuana grower.  Due to the constraints of the YA genre, I had to leave out a lot of interesting material. Ripped will tell a different story set in a similar criminal milieu, but will be told from an adult’s point of view and will be aimed at an adult audience.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

General literary fiction.

4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Sasha Horler for the female lead.  For the male lead, the singer Paul Kelly, if he could be persuaded to give acting another go.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A professional marijuana grower and his girlfriend become trapped in a lifestyle that leads to violence, imprisonment, and finally, redemption.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

No self-publishing! I need editors to tell me what’s good and what isn’t. I’ve managed so far without an agent, but it might be time for me to start looking for one.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

There is no draft yet. This has been roiling around in my head like a swarm of bees for a couple of months; I had not set anything to paper before answering these questions. I’ve been dreading the start of this project, as it’s going to involve revisiting a lot of bad memories and interviewing people about parts of their life that they’d rather forget.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I can’t think of a similar novel. Gabrielle Carey’s book Just Us is a non-fiction account of her relationship with a jailed criminal, but the characters at the core of my proposed novel are quite different to Gabrielle and her former partner.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

“Inspired” isn’t quite the right word. “Haunted” would be better. As with my last novel, some unfortunate past experiences provide the material to be shaped into a book. Bad luck can be turned into good fiction.

10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

I was recently hired by a TV drama production company for a brief consulting gig—they’re planning a series about women whose partners are in jail. Basically, I talked to a team of screenwriters, answering their questions. It was a great experience. It would be interesting if any of the material I plan on using in the novel ends up in the series, but I don’t think this will happen. I think the screenwriters know their intended audience, who is after a bit of light entertainment and would recoil at hard truths about jail and the stigmatised life of a crim’s girlfriend. The average TV viewer does not like to be made uncomfortable or made to re-examine entrenched attitudes. Book readers, in my opinion, have more active minds.

Thanks, Michelle, for sharing your Next Big Thing with Boomerang Blog readers.

Catch ya later,  George

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The Christmas Post

Ah, Christmas! I love this time of year — presents, tree decorating, food (especially Christmas Pudding), parties, family, friends and BOOKS!

One of my favourite things about Christmas is getting to just lie around and catch up on some reading. I thought that Christmas reading plans would make an interesting topic for a blog post. So I emailed three other authors and asked them to share their Christmas reading plans with us.

First up we have Meredith Costain. She lives in inner-city Melbourne with a menagerie of pets. Her books range from picture books through to novels and narrative non-fiction, and include A Year in Girl Hell, novelisations of the TV series Dance Academy, Bed Tails, Dog Squad and CBCA Honour Book Doodledum Dancing (illustrated by Pamela Allen). What’s she planning on reading this Christmas?

I’m looking forward to reading The Convent, by Maureen McCarthy. I went to the launch of the book, held in the Nuns’ Salon at the Abbotsford Convent, where the book is set. These days the gothic buildings and beautiful grounds are home to lots of creative ventures – writers, artists, cafes, craft markets, a classical music radio station – so it’s hard to imagine the misery many of the inhabitants (unmarried mothers banished to gruelling work in the convent’s commercial laundries) endured. Maureen is a wonderful storyteller, and has drawn extensively on her own family background for this book.

Having watched the movie Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy on the weekend (twice – it’s incredibly complex!) I’m also planning to read John Le Carré’s novel the movie was based on. I want to find out more background information on the characters and the workings of the ‘Circus’. I’ve written a couple of non-fiction books for kids about spies so this is of particular interest to me.

There’s also lots of fabulous YA fiction I’m hoping to catch up on – including books by Isobelle Carmody, John Green and Maggie Stiefvater. Roll on summer!

Next up we have YA author Lili Wilkinson. A popular speaker on the school circuit, Lili’s books include Scatterheart, Pink, Angelfish and A Pocketful of Eyes. Her latest book, Love-shy, is a rom-com about a high school journalist and a love-shy boy. Take it away, Lili…

Some of my favourite ever memories are curling up on the couch on Christmas Day after lunch with a pile of new books. This year, I’m planning to read Julia Lawrinson’s Losing It, because I’ve loved Julia’s previous books and this one promises to be no exception! I’m also looking forward to Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens, because everyone on Twitter is raving about it. I’m super excited about getting into Brian K Vaughn’s new graphic novel series, Saga, and am hoping I’ll find a copy of that under the tree on the 25th. And finally, I was planning to dive into Maureen McCarthy’s The Convent, but I just couldn’t wait, and have devoured the whole thing over the last few days!

Santas MailLast, but by no means least, we have Dimity Powell. Dimity has just had her first book published — P.S. Who Stole Santa’s Mail?. Being a Christmas themed story, it’s the perfect book for Christmas-time reading. And a great stocking filler. But what is Dimity planning on reading?

What’s on my Christmas reading list? Perhaps a shorter answer would be what’s not on my Christmas reading list? Reading this holiday will include a whole swag of new and previously loved picture books (we always have a stack of them to read each day, usually after breakfast), including Alison Reynolds’s recent release, A Year With Marmalade, because my Miss 7 is infatuated with all things feline. I’d really like to get through the 8 or so books weighing my bedside table down too including; Hazel Edwards’ House Working – a guide to supposedly enable me to learn how to share the load of ‘everything’ with my family better. Ironically, I’m too busy ‘not sharing’ to have time to read it…

I love a good love laugh so; Michael Gerard Bauer’s Eric Vale Epic Fail will be high on the list, along with Benjamin Law’s The Family Law, which I’ve been saving. I dichotomously look forward to a potentially good read, but like to hoard it for a while; a bit like eating roast spuds last, because they’re my favourites. And just for balance; I intend to finish Never Say Die by Chris O’Brien and Alison Goodman’s saucy little thriller, A New Kind of Death. I’m also looking for a copy of Jean-Dominique Bauby’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; a book club read that I can’t wait to start. That should keep me going for a while, at least till next year.

Now, what about me? Well, to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure how much spare reading time I’m going to have this Christmas as I’m trying to finish off my new novel, Gamers’ Rebellion (the third book in the Gamers series). But if I do end up getting some time… I’ve been saving Eona by Alison Goodman. I read Eon a little while ago and LOVED it (I will get around to posting about it soon… promise). So I am very much looking forward to reading the sequel. I’ve also got a couple of Doctor Who books I want to read — Doctor Who: The Wheel of Ice by Stephen Baxter and The Diary of a Doctor Who Addict by Paul Magrs.

I hope you all have some great Christmas reading ahead.

Catch ya later,  George

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Favourite SF books — Paul Collins

Yesterday I wrote about favourite science fiction books. Authors Michael Pryor and Simon Haynes got to put their two cents worth in. (see “Favourite SF books – Pryor & Haynes“) Today I am joined by author Paul Collins, who will be telling us about his favourite science fiction book.

Paul is no stranger to science fiction. He’s written lots of it, including the Earthborn Wars trilogy and his latest series, The Maximus Black Files. The first in the series, Mole Hunt, was published last year and got a slew of rave reviews. This year saw the publication of book two, Dyson’s Drop, which has also proven to be a runaway success. Fans are now eagerly awaiting the third in the series, Il Kedra, which will be out next year.

But what is Paul’s favourite science fiction book?

Asked to talk about my favourite book I’d have an argument with myself. Artemis Fowl or Tom Natsworthy? So the winner turns out to be Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines.

Most of the cities in England are hungrily trundling across the landscape, eating up smaller cities and towns for old tech and spare parts. The citizens of these fallen cities are either killed or enslaved.

Lowly third class apprentice Tom Natsworthy is unceremoniously thrown off London town – down a waste chute, no less – after having the misfortune to meet would-be assassin Hester Shaw. Together they must find their way back to London, each of course for different reasons. Much like Arthur Dent hitchhiking aboard a spacecraft, Tom and Hester climb aboard Tunbridge Wheels, only to find it’s a pirate town run by one Chrysler Peavey, whose daughter is called Cortina, of course!

There’s a strong cast of protagonists. Among my favourites are the hideously disfigured Hester Shaw and an Oriental aviatrix called Miss Anna Fang, both of whom remind me of another favourite character from years gone by, Modesty Blaise. The latter faced many villains as Reeve’s characters do. Foremost of these are the Stalkers, seven feet tall with metal armour; once human but now transformed into the living dead (think Terminator). Reeve delights in sudden gusts of humour at the least expected moments. Introducing his Stalkers he says in part: “Its round glass eye gave it a startled look, as if it had never got over the horrible surprise of what had happened to it”. In another scene, a Stalker called Shrike meets his comeuppance: “Is it . . . dead?” asks Tom Natsworthy, to which Hester replies: “A town just ran over him. I shouldn’t think he’s very well . . .”

A secret energy weapon called MEDUSA (from the Sixty Minute War) has been discovered by archaeologist Thaddeus Valentine (Hester’s mother, actually, but Valentine killed her to obtain it), and now London is roaring across the Hunting Ground to take on the static enclaves of the Anti-Traction League in Shan Guo (not everyone it seems wants to uproot their homes and live the life of gypsies).

Reeve does commit a cardinal sin so far as this reader is concerned. He kills the dog, or the equivalent of one. I always think that’s a cheap trick to gain reader sympathy, used most notably in fantasy novels.

Originality, humour, action, adventure, greed, clashing civilisations, betrayal, murder, pirates ─ it’s got it all. (Not to be restricted to teenagers!)

It might be a town-eat-town world, but I’m glad Reeve kept it rolling to a quartet. Three more to go for me!

Mortal Engines has been on my must-read-someday pile for ages. After reading Paul’s comments I may have to move it to the top of the pile. 🙂

Catch ya later,  George

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Favourite SF books – Pryor & Haynes

I’m a science fiction fan. I have been since primary school. As a kid I used to almost exclusively read science fiction. These days I read of mix of things — but, no matter how far my literary interests may wander, I still find myself being drawn back to science fiction.

The book that started it all for me, in primary school, was The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron. (I wrote about it earlier this year for Michael Pryor’s blog — see post.) And in my teen years, it was John Christopher’s trilogy The Tripods that was my most re-read favourite (see “Tripods Rule!“). These days, I would still probably list that trilogy as my all-time favourite literary SF. In terms of visual SF it is, of course, Doctor Who.

For this post I thought it would be interesting to ask three other authors what their favourite science fiction books were.

I started off with Michael Pryor. Although he is probably best known for his steampunkish alternative history series The Laws of Magic, he also writes science fiction. In fact, his latest book is science fiction. 10 Futures is a book of linked short stories, exploring ten different possible futures in which the only constant is friendship. But what is Michael’s favourite science fiction book?

My favourite Science Fiction book is Dan Simmons’ Hyperion. It’s audacious (recast The Canterbury Tales in an SF mode? Why not?), scary (the Shrike monster haunted my dreams for months after I first read this book), philosophical (not just one, but half a dozen of the Big Questions are tackled in this book), pacey (the chase and battle scenes are first class), moving (heartbreak, romance, parent/child loss, this book can make you cry), and written with a supple, dancing prose that sings with every sentence. Great book.

Next up we have Simon Haynes. Simon is well-known to SF fans as the author of the Hal Spacejock series. More recently, he has ventured into science fiction for younger readers with his Hal Junior series. There are three books in this series so far: The Secret Signal, The Missing Case and The Gyris Mission. I am reliably informed that he is working on the fourth at the moment. Here are Simon’s thoughts on his favourite SF…

Choosing a favourite SF novel is all but impossible, so I’m going to cheat and nominate my fave SF novel from my childhood years.  William F. Temple was a British SF novelist who once shared an apartment with Arthur C. Clarke. He wrote a number of novels for adults, but it’s his series for teenagers, written in the mid-50’s, which really captured my imagination. The first in the series was Martin Magnus: Planet Rover, featuring a crusty troubleshooter aged in his 30’s, who hated authority and bureaucracy, yet was smart enough and skilled enough to get away with being abrasive to just about everyone. However, he also had a big heart and would go to the ends of the Solar System to help someone he genuinely liked. The technology in the books has dated, of course, but the stories are still inventive and great fun.

Finally, I asked Paul Collins, author of dozens of books, including the science fiction series, The Maximus Black Files. In his enthusiasm for the genre, however, Paul was unable to contain himself to one paragraph. So he gets his very own guest post. 🙂 Come back tomorrow to find out what his favourite science fiction book is.

Catch ya later,  George

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Isobelle Carmody’s Greylands

Isobelle Carmody’s Greylands is back! Originally published in 1997, this YA novel has been out of print for a number of years. But a new revised edition has now hit the bookshelves. Never having read it the first time around, I was delighted to be able to pick it up and finally give this highly regarded book a go.

An out-of-print book getting a second go at life is a truly wonderful thing. It’s an opportunity for new readers to discover the book and for old readers to reacquaint themselves. I know all about it! I went through the process earlier this year with the new edition of my YA short story collection Life, Death and Detention. So I am rather excited and pleased about the re-release of Greylands.

I was lucky enough to go to the relaunch of Greylands at the “Keeping Books Alive” conference on 22 October. It was enthusiastically released on the world by Maureen McCarthy. And Isobelle Carmody got the chance to speak about the importance of the story to her. (And I got the opportunity to have my copy autographed!)

Prior to this year, I had never read anything by Isobelle Carmody. She was one of those authors I had always been meaning to read, but who had somehow slipped through the cracks. But earlier this year I read the short story anthology Trust Me Too, which contains her story “The Journey”. I loved the anthology (and I’m not saying that just because I too have a story within its pages — it really is a seriously impressive collection) and was particularly taken with Carmody’s story. So when Greylands came out, I just had to read it.

It’s a fantasy story, within a story, told by a young boy attempting to navigate his own feelings about his mother’s death. Falling through a mirror, Jack finds himself in a strange world where everything is dull and grey and merely a shadow of its real-world self. There, he meets a girl who carries a burden — and they are pursued by fierce unseen creatures. Jack needs to resolve his own feelings in order to solve the mystery of this grey land.

The novel is an atmospheric, heartfelt and sensitive journey though a young boy’s grief. It’s exciting, mysterious and sometimes sad… but ultimately hopeful about the future. It is a great read. It won the Aurealis Award for Best Young Adult Novel in 1998. I can certainly understand why.

This new edition, with a splendid cover from Grant Gittus, includes a new Foreward from Carmody. It provides some background to the story and highlights how personal it is to the author.

Highly recommended!

Catch ya later,  George

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YABBA 2012

The YABBAs have been announced! The winners have been hailed for their brilliance and popularity. And I’m going to tell you all about it.

There are lots of awards around in children’s publishing, but the YABBAs are special. The Young Australian Best Book Awards are entirely nominated and voted on by young people. These awards are not about grown-ups deciding on the worthwhile books that kids should be reading. These awards are about what kids are actually reading and enjoying.

I was lucky enough to be a guest at this year’s awards ceremony, along with lots of other authors and illustrators, including Carole Wilkinson, Gabrielle Wang, Corinne Fenton, Andy Griffiths, Karen Tayleur, Sue Bursztynski, Colin Thompson, Sarah Davis, Felice Arena and Oliver Phommavanh, to name a few.

Seeing the winners announced and the awards presented was great. But what was even better was witnessing the unbridled enthusiasm of the kids in the audience. They were excited about books. They were excited about reading. And that is AWESOME!

But who won? I hear you ask. And so, without further ado, the nominees and winners…

Picture Story Books…

WINNER: Fearless In Love – Colin Thompson / Sarah Davis

Fiction for Younger Readers…

WINNER: Alice Miranda At School – Jacqueline Harvey

Fiction for Older Readers…

WINNER: 13 Storey Treehouse – Andy Griffith / Terry Denton

Fiction for Year 7-9…

WINNER: Phoenix Files: Arrival – Chris Morphew

Congratulations to all the 2012 winners!

Now it’s on to 2013. Schools and students can get involved with the nominating process and voting in next years awards by checking out the YABBA website. The site also includes lots of cool activities and info, including reviews, puzzles and author/illustrator profiles.

Catch ya later,  George

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Destiny Road

Destiny Road is a new YA novel from first-time author Melissa Wray. I’ve invited Melissa to tell us about her (destiny) road to publication. 🙂

My Road to publication
By Melissa Wray

I have always loved reading and grew up 600m from the local library. I studied children’s literature at university while completing my Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Education (primary) degree. It was around six years ago that I decided to complete a professional writing course. I had thought about it for a while but the timing was not right up until then. I started a Certificate of Children’s Writing, six months after I had my first child. I naively thought I would have a lot of time on my hands!

After a while I entered a few competitions and received some good feedback. I was awarded runner up in the Junior Novel — Honour Book Award for the Ipswich Festival of Children’s Literature Writing for Children Competition. This was all the encouragement I needed to keep going.

I have been extremely lucky with my road to publication. I subscribe to a bi-monthly e-zine called Buzz Words. It was through this I saw a competition to win a publishing contract with Morris Publishing Australia. I had originally sent my story to a manuscript assessor who gave me some great feedback. I then spent another three months playing around with my writing and added an additional 15,000 words. It was just good timing that the competition came up when I had finished polishing the story. That and my maiden name is Morris so I thought the coincidence too much to ignore! I entered the competition by sending the first four chapters off. Destiny Road was shortlisted and I quickly sent off the entire manuscript. I could not believe it when it was accepted. I read the email about 20 times! For the record, I have submitted other stories elsewhere without luck and received the dreaded rejection notes.

Once I was offered the contract I set off on the most exciting ride! I received the contract and could make little sense of it. I sought out advice from the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) and then promptly signed on the dotted line.

I was advised early on to jump on social media outlets and tell everyone. I quickly rang a friend to come around to show me how to use Facebook! I set up my profile page and then created a page to promote Destiny Road.

After that I spent many hours trying to create a book trailer. It was a lot of fun and I was thrilled with the result.

My next challenge was to create a blog page. Again it was a huge learning curve but well worth the effort.

Elaine Ouston from Morris Publishing Australia has been really flexible with her approach to publishing. She has allowed me to be very involved with the steps in the publishing process. She even allowed one of my best friends to do the photography work for the front cover. It has been a fantastic first time experience.

My biggest tip for any beginning writer is to just write whatever you feel like. Don’t get bogged down with the details and plot as that will fall into place the more you write. Also enter competitions, especially the ones that offer feedback. It’s a great way to learn and develop your skills. Attend author events or workshops to interact with other people. I guarantee you will come away having learnt something. Also it pays to read widely in the genre you’re interested in, but remember to stay true to your writing style. Don’t try and mimic someone else’s.

Destiny Road is my first published novel and I am very proud of it. The story is about Jessica, who is 16 when she meets her father for the first time. She then makes the heartbreaking decision to leave her mum to live with her dad and get to know him better.

The idea for the story came from when I was 16 because I actually made the same decision, to live with my father for the first time. Unlike Jessica I had known him all my life but my parents divorced when I was very young. I was never able to say thank you to him for saying yes when I asked to live with him. He passed away several years ago and it has always bothered me that I could not get those words out before he died. Now, with Destiny Road, I feel like I have said them, so hopefully he knows.

Melissa Wray
Dream Big … Read Often.

George’s bit at the end

Thanks, Melissa, for stopping by and sharing your story. I’m looking forward to reading Destiny Road.

Catch ya later,  George

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Beyond the NYR12 vids

Last post I showed you some of the videos available from the National Year of Reading (NYR12) website and YouTube channel (see: “NYR12 vids”). But there are lots more videos out there.

NYR12 has not only promoted the joy of books and reading, it has also encouraged others to do so. And so many people across Australia have taken up that challenge — to spread the word and to promote reading.

Timothy Chan, an official Friend of NYR12, took it upon himself to coordinate a unique project — Love2ReadTV. He banded together numerous NYR12 Friends, getting each of them to record a video about the importance of reading in their lives. He has then edited those videos together into a series of webisodes and posted them to the Love2ReadTV website. There are three episodes, so far.

Episode One features Adam Wallace (author of Dawn of the Zombie Knights), Deby Adair, Mick Walsh, Morgan Schatz Blackrose and Meredith Costain (author of Bed Tails and the A Year In Girl Hell series).

Episode Two features: Nicky Johnston (author/illustrator of Happy Thoughts are Everywhere), Dee White (author of Letters to Leonardo), George Ivanoff (that would be me) and Juliet M Sampson (author of Behind the Mask).

Episode Three features: Peter Cawdron, Narrelle M Harris (author of Walking Shadows), Ron & Margaret Sharp and Alice Pung (author of Growing Up Asian in Australia).

And there are still two more episodes to go. But wait, that’s not all. There’s also a special librarians episode:

Go to YouTube and search for “National Year of Reading 2012”. You’ll find lots of other videos created by people and organisations to celebrate NYR12.

Do you have a favourite NYR12 video? Share it in the comments section below.

Catch ya later,  George

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NYR12 vids

Time for some videos. Specifically, some videos dealing with the National Year of Reading (NYR12).

“I want Australia to be many things: a prosperous nation, an innovative nation, but I certainly want us to be a reading nation… I want every Australian to know the joy and pleasure that comes from books and reading.”
Julia Gillard, PM

Throughout this year, the NYR12 initiative has been aiming to do just that — spread the joy and pleasure that comes from books and reading. Given that 2012 will be coming to an end in just over two months, I thought that now would be a good time for a post about NYR12. So, I had a look at their YouTube channel and picked out some of their vids to show you.

Lets start off with the simple little promo that’s been online since September last year:

NYR12 has over 100 ambassadors promoting reading across the country. Many of them have recorded messages to share via the NYR12 site. Here’s one from their patron, actor and author William McInnes:

Hazel Edwards, author of many books for kids, teens and adults, is probably best known for her picture book, There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake. But she is also the co-author of the controversial (and utterly brilliant) YA novel about a teen who is transitioning gender from female to male, f2m: the boy within. Here’s her message:

Alison Lester, author and illustrator of books such as Sophie Scott Goes South and Noni the Pony, has this to say:

There are also messages from people involved with library administration. For example, Sue Hutley, Executive Director of the Australian Library and Information Association:

Finally, let’s go back to the beginning with a speech from the launch of NYR12 at the National Library of Australia in Canberra. I felt that, given her recent news-making speech, it would be rather appropriate to let our Prime Minister Julia Gillard have the last word:

Catch ya later,  George

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Showtime

I’m sticking with the small press theme of my last post. From Felicity Dowker’s book, Bread and Circuses, we go to Narrelle M Harris’s Showtime. From Ticonderoga Publications we go to Twelfth Planet Press.

As well as anthologies, collections, novellas and novels, Twelfth Planet Press is publishing a series of mini-collections by some of Australia’s best women short story writers. Titled Twelve Planets, there is (not surprisingly) twelve books planned for the series — each one containing four short stories. Narrelle’s Showtime is the third out of the seven thus far released. The other six are:

  • Through Splintered Walls by Kaaron Warren
  • Thief of Lives by Lucy Sussex
  • Nightsiders by Sue Isle
  • Love and Romanpunk by Tansy Rayner Roberts
  • Cracklescape by Margo Lanagan
  • Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti

And Asymmetry by Thoraiya Dyer is the next scheduled release.

Narrelle M Harris is an extremely engaging writing, and I’ve loved her stuff ever since her fanfic days (yes, lots of writers got their start in fanfic). I particularly love her Melbourne-based vampire novel, The Opposite of Life… and I am very much looking forward to reading the sequel Walking Shadows. But now, on to Showtime

Four stories, all of them excellent. “Stalemate” is a story about unhappy family relationships with a paranormal twist. It’s a good opener. Next up is “Thrall”, an amusing look at how an ancient vampire might fit in (or not) in modern society. And then we have my favourite, “The Truth About Brains”. This is, I guess, a YA zombie story. It’s funny and it’s engaging, with likeable (and not so likeable) characters, but it also has its darker moments. Finally we have the title story, “Showtime”. It’s a great way to finish. Gary and Lissa, the vampire and the librarian from The Opposite of Life, are back for a little mini adventure at the Royal Melbourne Show. Fun times! 🙂

All the stories deal with the concept of family and they all have a supernatural element. But each story also has a unique approach, often twisting an expected element.

I think that Harris is at her best when combining dark supernatural themes with humour. And you certainly get that in Showtime. It’s an excellent little collection and a great introduction to her writing. My only complaint is that four stories are not enough.

Catch ya later,  George

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Bread and Circuses

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, then you’ll know that I love Aussie small press. One of my favourite small press publishers is Ticonderoga Publications. They consistently produce exceptional genre books, and it’s one of those that I’m going to write about today.

Earlier this year I attended a spec fic convention in Melbourne — Continuum 8. At that convention I went along to the launch of Felicity Dowker’s book, Bread and Circuses. (see: “The post-Continuum report”) I’ve been eagerly looking forward to reading it ever since. I finally read it last month. And it’s one of those books that I just have to tell you about.

Bread and Circuses is a collection of horror short stories. This is not the mindless, blood-and-guts sort of horror. This is intelligent, creepy, innovative horror. This is the sort of horror that really gets under your skin and makes you think about things long after you’ve finished reading it. This is horror that, despite many fantastical elements (from vampires to dragons to creepy Santas), focuses squarely on the human condition. This is the sort of horror that I would happily recommend both to horror fans and to people who don’t usually read the genre.

As with any collection there are some stories that I like better than others. But there are no bad stories in here. Even my least favourite is still a damn fine piece of writing. And my favourite? Definitely “To Wish on a Clockwork Heart”. It’s about Marc, a man in a desperate situation, who meets a clockwork fairy. She too is desperate — she needs some ‘oil’ to lubricate her before she seizes up. Of course, there is a wish involved… but there are consequences. All the fantasy/horror elements aside, the heart of the story is a very human predicament — Marc’s desire to be reunited with his daughter.

And that’s what I love about these stories — the human element. Dowker is particularly adept at peppering her stories with wonderful little observations about humanity and its dichotomous nature.

“Such kindness in people. Such evil, too. Such a lottery as to which shone through.”

Each story is followed by an Afterword in which the author tells us a little about her creative process and motivations. As an author myself, I love having this little insight into each story. I know a lot of people don’t like this sort of thing, believing that stories should be left to stand on their own without explanation. But I’m happy these Afterwards are here for those of us who are interested. And if it’s not your thing, you can always skip them.

Felicity Dowker is a talented writer and this collection is evidence of that. More please!

Final word: Highly Recommended!

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter

 

Check out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

Latest Post: DVD Review and Giveaway  — Doctor Who: Vengeance on Varos, Special Edition

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