There is certainly no shortage of awards in the literary world. From the general to the specific; from the highly desired to the barely recognised; from popular vote awards to those judged by experts — there are lots of awards to go around.

It seems like every time I venture out into cyberspace, someone is winning an award for something. Not that this is a bad thing. There are so many excellent books being published each year, that even with the plethora of available awards, they are still only scratching the surface of all those deserving of recognition.

On a personal level, I find myself not thinking about awards all that much. Yes, it’s very nice when you win one… but not winning one does not make your book any less worth reading. And often it is a matter of personal opinion. Literature, like any art form, is very subjective. What one person adores as brilliant, another may despise as worthless. I often look at awards lists and think to myself that, if it were up to me, I would have made some very different choices.

On a professional level, I am interested in awards, as they can help to promote a book. My publisher (Ford Street Publishing) was very happy when my teen novel, Gamers’ Quest, won a Chronos Award earlier this year. It meant that I could have an award sticker on the book cover, as they tend to attract attention… even if the average teenager has no idea what a Chronos Award is.

Being a children’s author, I tend to keep an eye on the awards specifically targeting books for kids and teens, such as the YABBA awards, the Inkys and the CBCA awards. But I’m also a writer of, and major fan of, science fiction. So I am rather interested in seeing the outcome of two upcoming sets of awards — the Ditmars and the Hugos.

The Hugos are awards for excellence in the field of science fiction and fantasy, presented annually at the World Science Fiction Convention, and voted on by the members of that convention. This year’s convention, just in case you haven’t already heard, is being held in Melbourne. It’s the 68th World Science Fiction Convention and it is only the 4th time it has made it to our shores. More info about this year’s convention, called Aussiecon 4, is available from their website. And here’s the list of this year’s Hugo Award nominees. A VERY impressive list of talent!

The Ditmars are the Australian SF Awards, created to recognise excellence in Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror by Australians. Each year they are presented at the National Science Fiction Convention. There’s an amazing array of local talent on this year’s ballot… go on, take a look. I’d be surprised if you didn’t recognise at least some of the names that appear on it. This year, I’m rather excited by this set of awards because H Gibbens, computer animator extraordinaire, is on the ballot for the book trailer he created for Gamers’ Quest. He did an amazing job with the trailer, so I am extremely pleased to see him getting some recognition for it. I’ve posted the trailer on this blog before, but what the hell… here it is again.

So what do people think of awards? Do they make a difference to your reading choices? Do you seek out award winning books?

And tune in next time when I’ll be writing about talking about writing.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter!

Fabulous Foodie Fiction!

Food, glorious food! I love cooking and I love eating. I enjoy trying new recipes and I delight in modifying old ones. I will often browse through the pages of a cookbook, looking for inspiration. But inspiration does not only lie in recipe books — many a time it can be found in the pages of fabulous foodie fiction.

My earliest memory of food in fiction is, of course, Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss. This timeless children’s book with amazing, crazy rhymes had me begging my mum to feed me curiously coloured culinary cuisine (gotta love a little alliteration). In more recent times, after I first read the book to my daughter, and she requested green eggs and ham for dinner, I made a spinach and ham quiche. It had eggs, it had ham, it was green — mission accomplished!

We need to jump to my late teens for my next memorable foodie fiction experience. The book was ME Kerr’s Fell, a YA novel about an ordinary teenage boy who enrols in an elite private school under an assumed name, where a mysterious club known as the Sevens wield more power than they should. Within its pages, the main character cooks French toast for his would-be girlfriend, providing step-by-step instructions. I had never eaten French toast before — but after reading the description in the book, I went off and made some. And I have been making it as an occasional breakfast treat ever since.

In more recent times I have become enamoured of Poppy Z Brite’s foodie fiction, set in New Orleans. Brite made her name with horror novels such as Lost Souls and Drawing Blood, but came to eventually change her writing focus. She’s written a series of novels following the adventures of Rickey and G-Man through the restaurants of New Orleans. These are the type of books that make you hungry as you read them. And they make you want to cook with alcohol, as Rickey and G-Man establish their restaurant, Liquor, where every dish on the menu has at least some alcohol in it. Very inspiring!

Brite’s Rickey and G-Man appear in a number of short stories as well as the following novels:

I’ll finish up this post with a quote from one of Brite’s short stories — “O Death, Where Is Thy Spatula” from the collection, The Devil You Know — which is not actually a Rickey and G-Man story:

“The main thing you need to know about me is that I love eating more than anything else in the world. More than sex, more than tropical vacations, more than reading, more than any drug I’ve ever tried. I’m not fat—I’m actually quite slender—but I can’t take credit for any kind of willpower or exercise regimen. The truth is, I’m not fat because I only finish eating things that are really, really good, and there just aren’t that many of them in my opinion. I love eating, as I say, but I’m picky as hell. A French pastry, ethereal manifestation of butter, custard, and chocolate, designed like a little piece of modern architecture? I’m there. A slice of cold pizza? I might nibble at it until my hunger headache goes away, but no more.”

Okay… that’s it! I’ve got to go and eat now. Baked Isigny Ste Mère Petit Camembert with blanched garlic, thyme, a sprinkle of pepper and doused in red wine… served with crusty bread and washed down with the rest of the wine. Mmmmmmm! Check out the recipe! What are the rest of you eating? 😉

And tune in next time when I’ll write about… something… don’t know what yet… can’t think of anything else other than the Camembert… mmmmm… Camembert… mmmmmm…

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter.

Old Books

There seems to be a bit of a reading and publishing shift happening at the moment. Everyone is talking about iPads, Kindles and e-books. Never one to follow a trend, I am instead going to write about old books.

I love old books! I love new ones too — goodness knows I certainly buy enough of them — but there’s just something extra special about old books… in fact, the older the better. The smell! The feel! The history! There’s nothing better than browsing the bookshelves of a second-hand store and coming across some discarded gem.

The favourite of my collection is an illustrated, hardcover 1908 edition of A Yankee at the Court of King Arthur by Mark Twain. I bought this book back in 1999 when on honeymoon in the UK. I found it in White Spider Books, a little second hand bookshop in Surrey. It cost £12.50. It had seemed like a good investment, given that I had never read the book but had always wanted to. And it was… I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

A couple of posts ago, I wrote about my teenage obsession with John Christopher’s Tripods Trilogy. Thanks to numerous second hand bookstore visits over the years, I’ve got several different editions of these books, the earliest being a 1970 paperback edition of the first book, The White Mountains.

I’ve even been known to occasionally purchase an old book simply because its old and I like the look of it. One such book is J Cuthbert Hadden’s The Bohemian Girl, which appears to be part of a series called The Great Operas. It’s a short book about Balfe’s opera, The Bohemian Girl, and includes a summary of the plot, a critique of the music, a history of the opera’s creation and production, and a biography of Michael William Balfe. It’s a small hardcover edition (measuring 120 X 150cm) with lovely colour illustrations throughout. The dust jacket is torn in half, but the book is otherwise in good condition. There is no publication date, although the text mentions an event in 1906 as being recent. I paid a grand total of $0.50 for this one.

My latest purchase is a 1912 hardcover edition of Lyra Heroica, A book of Verse for Boys. I found it in an op shop while browsing the children’s books. It stood out as the only hardcover in a shelf full of battered paperbacks. So I picked it up, and read the preface.

“To set forth, as only art can, the beauty and the joy of living, the beauty and the blessedness of death, the glory of battle and adventure, the nobility of devotion—to a cause, an ideal, a passion even—the dignity of resistance, the sacred quality of patriotism, that is my ambition here.”

After reading this sentence by William Ernest Henley, who selected and arranged the poems, I just had to buy the book. It cost me the princely sum of $4.00.

There are many other old books in my collection. And no doubt, there will be many more in the future. Oh, and in case you’re wondering — I don’t own an iPad or a Kindle. 🙂

Anyone else out there like old books? Leave a comment and tell us about your oldest book.

And tune in next time for a post about food.

Catch ya later,  George

PS – Follow me on Twitter.

Kids’ reading — Boots, Rufus the Numbat, and a Fairy Empire

As a proud parent, I find it endlessly interesting to watch my kids’ literary tastes developing. So I’m now going to make an enormous leap of (perhaps faulty) logic and assume that all you people out there will find it just as interesting. And thus I shall blog about the books that my daughters have been reading, or, in the case of the younger, chewing on.

My youngest, Alexandra, is just 18 months old. She loves books. She loves it when I read them to her — but she also spends ages turning the pages by herself, giggling at the pictures and pointing things out on the pages. Her current favourites include A Friend For Boots and Bath-Time Boots, both by Satoshi Kitamura. These board-books are absolutely brilliant! Simple yet delightful words combine with simple but charming illustrations, to tell the story of a cat named Boots. Alexandra delights in pointing out Boots and the various toys depicted on each page.

My eldest, Nykita, is 7 years old. She is currently obsessed with the Rainbow Magic fairy books by the pseudonymous Daisy Meadows. Daisy, or rather the four authors from Working Partners who write under this pseudonym, have built a Rainbow Magic empire. There are already over 90 titles in the series, and no doubt, they’ll keep churning them out for as long as little girls keep getting their parents to buy them. Nykita has been borrowing them from her school library. She is finding this rather frustrating as she only gets to borrow one book a week, and she usually finishes the book on the night she brings it home. But fear not… I went to a recent department store toy and book sale. There, amongst a sea of mothers with shopping trolleys stacked twice their height in toys, I wandered around with an armful of books. I got two boxed sets of the Rainbow Magic books, comprising books 71 to 84. And then to balance things out a bit, I also got a boxed set of Enid Blyton books. These should keep her entertained for a week or two.

With two young daughters who love books, I was delighted to receive a review copy of David Miller’s new picture book, Rufus the Numbat. This is Miller’s second book for Ford Street Publishing, after the critically acclaimed Big and Me. And he’s done it again — a lovely book with a unique look and a story that works on two levels. Kids can simply enjoy the madness and mayhem that ensues when Rufus the numbat wanders into the city, while adults can appreciate the subtle statement on humans encroaching on the natural habitats of native animals.

But don’t just take my word for how good it is… let’s get some expert opinions as well. It got a definite thumbs up from Nykita. She spent ages studying the intricate paper sculptures that Miller used to illustrate the book. “I like the way everything is made out of paper,” she announced. She also said that it was “a very creative story”. Her favourite bit was when Rufus rode a skateboard away from the city to the bush. I read the book to Alexandra, who kept pointing to Rufus each time I turned the page, giggling with enthusiasm every time she spotted him.

So Miller has managed to please an 18 month old, a 7 year old and a 42 year old with Rufus the Numbat — a pretty good achievement!

Anyone out there want to share with us what their kids have been reading? Leave a comment.

And tune in next time so I can tell you about how much I love old books.

Catch ya later,  George

PS – Follow me on Twitter.

Tripods Rule!

The Earth has been invaded — conquered by aliens in huge walking, metal tripods. For generations the people of Earth have been kept under control by caps — metal mesh, implanted into the flesh of a person’s head when they turn 14 years of age. Once capped, people loose their curiosity and creativity, become docile and feel compelled to worship the Tripods. But not everyone is capped. There is a resistance movement of free people, hiding out in the White Mountains, gathering more to their cause and searching for a way to defeat the invaders.

I discovered John Christopher’s Tripods Trilogy when I was a teenager in the early 1980s. I fell in love with it. I read the three books — The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead and The Pool of Fire — many times over. When the BBC turned the first two books into a television series in the mid-1980s, I watched it eagerly, recorded it on VHS and re-watched the tapes until they practically wore out. And then, in 1988, there was a new book — a prequel, When the Tripods Came. With all the recent talk of a new film based on the first book, I thought it would be a good time to revisit my teenage obsession.

I am very pleased to say that I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading the books. I still have the copies I bought in 1983 — a terrific set with covers that lined up to form a large picture — as well as several different editions. Like a true obsessive I went through a phase of collecting different editions of these books… and there have been many.

The original trilogy follows the adventures of an English boy, Will Parker, who teams up with two other boys to escape the capping and set off in search of the free men of the White Mountains. By the end of the first book, after a long and dangerous journey, they reach the mountains. In the second book, there is an undercover mission into one of the Tripod cities to discover the alien Masters that drive them and to look for weaknesses. And the third book is all about the defeat of the Masters and their Tripods.

Originally published in 1967/8, these books hold up pretty well by today’s standards. They are exciting, well plotted and thoughtfully conceived. The writing style is a little dry and dated, particularly when it comes to the dialogue, although somehow is seems to work just fine. An interesting thing to note is the almost complete lack of female characters, apart from an occasional love interest.

The prequel, When The Tripods Came, published in 1988, is quite a different kettle of fish, with several major female characters and a more easy-going writing style. The main character, however, is again an English teenage boy, Laurie. The story follows him and his family as they try to escape the mind-control being used by the aliens to subjugate the people of Earth. Given that this prequel is all about how the Earth came to be conquered, you could expect a dark and hopeless tale… but it’s not. The story of this family and their escape concludes with hope and sees the seeds of the resistance that will feature in the trilogy, being sown.

I’m now part-way through the 1984/5 BBC series, which has been released on DVD. The series made numerous changes (some that worked, others that didn’t) and although somewhat dated in its look and feel, it is still highly entertaining. The musical score by Ken Freeman is a particular highlight, and the effects (especially the close-up model work on the Tripods) better than the average BBC stuff from the same era. The big disappointment of the series, however, is that it was cancelled before the third book could be filmed, leaving the story incomplete and the characters facing a bleak future with a very down-beat conclusion.

Apparently, Disney acquired the film rights to the Tripods in 1997, and finally, in 2005, announced that pre-production would soon begin with Australian director Gregor Jordan at the helm. Jordan has said in interviews that the film will remain faithful to the books and that the only significant change he intends to make is to swap one of the main characters from a boy to a girl. The film is currently slated for shooting in 2011 and release in 2012. I can hardly wait!

Anyone else out there read the Tripods Trilogy? Or seen the series? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

And tune in next time to find out what my kids have been reading.

Catch ya later,  George

PS – Follow me on Twitter!

Paul Cornell talks about writing

Today, we welcome back British writer Paul Cornell. Last post we chatted about his Doctor Who writing. This time around we’re focusing on his other writing… and man, has he done a lot of other writing! Scripts, novels, novellas, short stories, comics… you name it, he’s done it.

The Interview — Part Two

You’ve written lots of stuff other than Doctor Who. In fact, you’re a rather versatile writer, having written books, comics and television scripts. Do you have a preference for any particular medium?

Prose, every time. You can just do anything, with time, character, budget, all within your grasp absolutely. Comics are a joy to me, but there are still limitations. With television I’ve always found that achieving anything is a major victory. I’ve enjoyed some of those, but it’s much, much tougher to get anything made, let alone anything good. I’ve been wondering for years if television is worth it.

Is it difficult constantly switching the mediums you write for?

Yes, it’s hard to write for two in the same day. Prose to television is like putting on a pair of those mechanical arms and working remotely.

You have two nominations in this year’s Hugo Awards — “One of Our Bastards is Missing” (published in The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction Vol3) has been nominated for best novelette and Captain Britain And MI13. Volume 3: Vampire State has been nominated for best graphic story. Huge congratulations! Can you tell us a little about each of these?

Well I’m just ecstatic about this. My two previous Hugo nomination pins are my proudest possessions, and now I have two more! And getting one for prose feels especially impossible and grand. The novelette is my take on Ian Fleming’s novels, the questions those raise about masculinity, with perhaps different answers. It’s set in a world where something fundamentally different happened in the history of science, the details of which I haven’t revealed yet, and so the great game, the balance of power of nineteenth century nations, has continued.  It’s also me talking about nation states again, which I’m fascinated by and don’t see going away. Similarly, Captain Britain is all about the vampire diaspora looking for a home.  I’ve seen some very kind reviews that confirm my feeling that you don’t need to be immersed in Marvel continuity to enjoy it. Bastards is available for free from my blog, as are the first two issues of Vampire State.

“One of Our Bastards is Missing” is the second story to feature your character Jonathan Hamilton, who first appeared in “Catherine Drewe” (published in Fast Forward 2). Any plans for more in the series?

Yes, I’m several thousand useless words into a rubbish third one, The Copenhagen Interpretation, which is flying like a sack of potatoes at the moment, and will need some savage rewriting. I think I now know what to do, though.

Your latest piece of television writing is Pulse, a pilot which recently screened in the UK. Can you tell us a bit about Pulse and whether or not it will become a series?

I don’t know yet, we’re still waiting to hear.  It’s a techno medical horror thriller show, dark doings in the health service.  It’s wonderfully directed by James Hawes and we have a great cast lined up. All we need is the go-ahead.

You’ve written for both DC Comics and Marvel, for a number of established comics series from Dark X-Men to The Fantastic Four. Is there any series you found more difficult than others to come to grips with?

That Black Widow mini-series, I didn’t make that work at all. Entirely my own fault, down to my belief that all continuity counts. To tell her origin in that space, I shouldn’t have also tried to do a modern story.

If you had the chance to actually meet one of your characters in real life, which one would you choose, and why?

I think Pete Wisdom and I have a lot in common.

Do you have a dream project (something that you would love to work on but are not sure will ever happen)?

There are some DC books I’d like to write, but that apart I’d like to get on with establishing myself as a novelist. That’s the next thing.

So, what’s next for Paul Cornell, assuming your next project isn’t top secret?

I have a novel coming out from Tor next year, about which I can tell you very little. Before then, I’m very much looking forward to Worldcon in Melbourne. I love Aussie, and I’m looking forward to touring around before the event and seeing a lot of old friends.

George’s bit at the end

Many thanks to Paul for taking the time to answer my questions. For more info about him and his writing, check out his blog. You can also follow him on Twitter. And if you’d like to hear Paul speak, he will be attending Aussiecon 4 (the 68th World Science Fiction Convention) in Melbourne in September this year. For more info about Aussiecon, check out their website.

And tune in next time to find out about a world dominated by invading tripods.

Catch ya later,  George

PS – Follow me on Twitter.

Paul Cornell and Doctor Who

Being a long-time Doctor Who fan, I am very excited to be interviewing British writer Paul Cornell for Literary Clutter. Paul is well known for his Doctor Who writing, but he’s also written a heap of other stuff, including radio and television scripts, short stories, novels and comics, and has had four Hugo Award nomination.

Paul came to notoriety in the 1990s, writing numerous Doctor Who novels, including Timewyrm: Revelation and Human Nature. He went on to write several scripts for the Doctor Who audio dramas and for the revived television series, including a two-part adaptation of his novel Human Nature. So, I thought I’d begin the interview by focusing on his Doctor Who writing.

The Interview — Part One

Can you tell us a bit about your first Doctor Who writing experience?

That would be the fan fiction I wrote at school. Some of that got published in fanzines, and one of those fanzine stories (Revelation) was made into a Doctor Who book, and one of those books (Human Nature) was turned into a TV story, so I’ve been lucky enough to have a ladder leading from my earliest amateur Who work right to the show itself.

You adapted your Doctor Who novel, Human Nature (featuring the seventh Doctor), into a two-part script for the third season of the new Doctor Who series (featuring the tenth Doctor). How did that come about? And was it difficult changing the story from one medium to another, and from one Doctor to another?

Russell phoned me up and asked me to do it. “How did it come about” stories, at least in TV, are rarely more exciting. And well, yes and no. Doctors, not so much, it’s just one voice to another, but there were a lot of other things to consider, like how long Smith and Joan had known each other, and how much a product of his time Smith is. In the book, he’s still kind of an outsider… in the TV version, an upstanding member of society.

You wrote the animated webcast Doctor Who story “Scream of the Shalka“, which featured Richard E. Grant as the Doctor and Sir Derek Jacobi as the Master. This story played around with Doctor Who mythology and took the Doctor/Master relationship in a new direction. Were you given free reign when writing this story or were you given a direction to follow? And were you happy with the way it all worked out?

I was given free reign, just about, to create the format. And then Richard E. Grant added loads of lines of his own! I was really happy with it. The animation looks primitive now, but won awards at the time. I like the things it tries out, things the TV show would decide against, and some it went in the same direction with.

Okay… Now for the nerdy fan-boy question: Who’s your favourite Doctor?

Old show, either Davison or McCoy. New show, can’t choose between them. All brilliant.

You created the character Bernice Summerfield for the New Adventures series of Doctor Who books (introduced in the novel, Love and War). Since then, Bernice has spun off into her own books and audio adventures. What it’s like for you, as a writer, to hand over your character to other writers?

It’s a joy to see her continue to grow and flourish without my help. I think it’s a good sign that she was made sturdy in the first place.

George’s bit at the end

Paul’s Doctor Who books include, Timewyrm: RevelationLove and War, No FutureHuman NatureHappy Endings, Goth Opera and The Shadows of Avalon. His Doctor Who television scripts include, “Father’s Day”, “Human Nature” and “The Family of Blood”.

My thanks to Paul for dropping by Literary Clutter. For more info about him and his writing, check out his blog. You can also follow him on Twitter.

And tune in next time when Paul returns to chat about some of his other writing, including the new television pilot Pulse and his Hugo Award nominated novella “One of Our Bastards is Missing”.

Catch ya later,  George

PS: Follow me on Twitter!

Celapene Press

Small press publishers are an extremely important part of this country’s literary landscape. Over time, I hope to profile a few of them here on Literary Clutter. Today, Kathryn Duncan from Celapene Press has dropped by to tell us a little about her publishing venture.

Celapene Press: creating books and supporting the community
By Kathryn Duncan

When I was in Primary school I fell in love with the idea of creating books. My Grade 2 teacher would type up our stories, we would draw the pictures, cut out cardboard to use as covers and design them and then join it all together with staples and sticky tape — it was the 70s, so technology was not on our side. It was fun and I remember trying to start my own book-making group with my friends. I still have all the books I made in school.

After having children, I rediscovered my love of picture books and thought I’d give it a try. I went to a one day writing class and the day after enrolled in the Diploma of Arts (Professional Writing and Editing) at Box Hill TAFE, also doing my children’s writing subject at Holmesglen. During the course, I discovered that I was much better at editing than writing and focused on the editing and production side of publishing. It was around this time that I also completed a self-publishing course at The Victorian Writers Centre. A week or so later I had set up Celapene Press, determined now that I could do this.

The first book I published was Page Seventeen, an anthology of stories and poems. This was a joint effort with Tiggy Johnson, and it was a huge learning curve, but I am still proud of that first effort. In 2007, I decided to publish a collection of stories and poems with a twist, Short and Twisted. The 2010 issue, the fourth, has just been released.

In 2009, I was approached by several authors wondering whether I would be interested in publishing their work. The first was Machino Supremo, a collection of children’s poems about machines. This was released in late 2009 and is a black and white illustrated collection of poems by Janeen Brian and Mark Carthew, illustrated by John Veekan.

The second book is The Slightly Skewed Life of Toby Chrysler by Paul Collins. Paul sent me the manuscript under a pseudonym. I loved it after the first line and within days contacted Paul and told him I would love to publish it. It was released in November 2009, and the first print run had sold out before it was released. This was a huge achievement for a small press. It has also been short-listed for the Speech Pathology Australia Awards.

I would love to publish more Australian junior fiction and see this as the area I would like to focus on in the future. Finding the right book is the hardest part. Being a small press publisher, you need to be selective in what you choose because you invest so much of yourself into the process. There are so many great stories out there waiting for the right opportunity, but when you are small, it’s not that easy to say yes. I do not actively look for submissions, but I receive a lot.

A major importance for Celapene Press is supporting the community and I would like to be in a position to donate a percentage of all sales to two charities that I am involved with. Amongst other support services, Teddy Love Club Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support donates teddy bears to bereaved parents in memory of a baby who has died, and is a group I became involved with in early 2009 after the death of my baby daughter. They commented that they wanted to publish a book of bereaved parents stories and I offered to do it for them. You are not alone: Stories from Australian families who have suffered the loss of their baby was released in April 2010. Emotionally, this was a very hard book to publish. I read the stories many times and each one broke my heart. Pregnancy loss and neonatal death are almost taboo subjects still, but they affect so many people and it still upsets me that we don’t talk about it. The feedback from this book has been wonderful and parents comment how much it has helped them realise that they are not alone in the grief that they feel after losing a child.

Celapene Press also supports the Melbourne Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. Not long after our daughter died I established the Charlotte Duncan Award. The winners for 2010 were announced in June and all profits from the Award are donated to the Children’s Hospital. In the past two years, the Award has donated over $900 to the hospital.

Where to from here? I am still looking for the next book to publish and would like to publish 3-4 books a year. As with Toby Chrysler, I will know the next book when I read it and look forward to it arriving on my desk, or in my emails.

George’s bit at the end

My thanks to Kathryn for stopping by. To find out more about Celapene Press, check out their website.

I’ve read Machino Supremo and The Slightly Skewed Life of Toby Chrysler — both are excellent books. You can read my review of The Slightly Skewed Life of Toby Chrysler on the MC Reviews website.

And tune in next time for Part 1 of an interview with British author and scriptwriter Paul Cornell.

Catch ya later,  George

Random literary quotes

Last time it was first sentences. This time, I’m quoting memorable bits from anywhere within a book or short story. These are just the quotes that have come to mind while putting together this post. Given the vagaries of my memory, there are bound to be other bits I should have quoted… but hey… with my memory the way it is, consider yourselves lucky to be getting this!

As with my last post, I’m listing the sources at the end of the post so you can all play guess that quote.


As Yone had predicted, it was deserted — tourism was a thing of the past, along with parliaments and television chat shows, universities and churches, human disorder and human freedom.


The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.


He looked at her as though seeing her for the first time, and kissed her as if they were not yet married.


Teddy and Vern slowly became just two more faces in the halls or in 3.30 detention. We nodded and said hi. That was all. It happens. Friends come in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant, did you ever notice that?


In the space it took to read the few dozen words, Danny learned two crucial things, vital to learn at any age but so powerful to have at fourteen: that you always had to grant unlimited possibility, and that happy endings were as fleeting as you let them be.


She was a lovely lady, with a romantic mind and such a sweet mocking mouth. Her romantic mind was like the tiny boxes, one within the other, that come from the puzzling East, however many you discover there is always one more; and her sweet mocking mouth had one kiss on it that Wendy could never get, though there it was, perfectly conspicuous in the right-hand corner.


All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others


The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man; but already it was impossible to say which was which.


I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this! One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture — a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees — very gradually — I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.


I’ve been on quite a trip, though I don’t have much to show for it — a book of Rolling Stones’ lyrics, some coins with Arabic writing on them, a headscarf with crocheted fans around the edge. I’ve learned how to say “bread” and “water” in eight different languages and I can swear in Dutch.


Fa’red was not the sort of wizard who muttered arcane spells over foul-smelling cauldrons in dark cellars. Although he was a very inventive man, his ideas far exceeded his ability to carry them out personally. As such, he had learned to delegate work.


‘You asked me once,’ said O’Brien, ‘what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.’


“And as their lips met, everything changed.”

Got a favourite quote? Leave a comment and share.

And tune in next time to find out about Celapene Press.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Here are the books:

1. When the Tripods Came, John Christopher, 1988.

2. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Dauglas Adams, 1979.

3. “Add a Dash of Pity”, Peter Ustinov, from Add a Dash of Pity and Other Short Stories, 1958.

4. “The Body”, Stephen King, from Different Seasons, 1982.

5. “The Saltimbanques”, Terry Dowling, from Blackwater Days, 2000.

6. Peter Pan, JM Barrie, 1911.

7. Animal Farm, George Orwell, 1945.

8. Animal Farm, George Orwell, 1945.

9. “The Tell-Tale Heart”, Edgar Allan Poe, 1843.

10. Sugar Sugar, Carole Wilkinson, 2010.

11. Drangonfang, Paul Collins, 2004.

12. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell, 1949.

13. Gamers’ Quest, George Ivanoff, 2009. — Yeah, yeah! I know! Shameless plug. 🙂

The first sentence

A writer needs to get the attention of his/her readers as soon as possible — to make them want to read further, to make them not put the book back onto the bookshop shelf in favour of another book. There are many ways to do this and it can take anywhere from a single word to an entire chapter. But what I want to write about today is that all-important first sentence.

A book’s first sentence can be long or short, descriptive or elusive, intriguing or demanding, full of purple prose or stated matter-of-factly — but its purpose is to begin the story and hook the reader. Some writers do this better than others.

Today, I simply want to share with you some of my favourite opening sentences — some with comments, other without. These are not necessarily my favourite books, these are just sentences that I found had grabbed my attention and made me remember them. I am presenting them in splendid isolation from the remainder of the text to which they belong. Have a read and see if you can guess from which books I have extracted them — I’ve listed the books at the end of the post.

1. I’m going to start with my all-time favourite — a truly memorable and intriguing sentence that sets up reader expectations. It’s a very recognisable sentence and also a rather long one — far longer than is fashionable to write in this day and age.

“No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.”

2. Another absolute classic:

“The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

3. A little gruesome, but memorable.

“Physicist Leonardo Vetra smelled burning flesh, and he knew it was his own.”

4. “I heard a story once about a little kid who came home from school and found his mother dead on the kitchen floor.”

5. “I keep thinking that I have a tunnel in my chest.”

6. What I love about this sentence is the way ‘dæmon’ is written with such everyday matter-of-factsness.

“Lyra and her dæmon moved through the darkening Hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.”

7. “I know a place where there is no smog and no parking problem and no population explosion . . . no Cold War and no H-bombs and no television commercials . . . no Summit Conferences, no Foreign Aid, no hidden taxes—no income tax.”

8. “When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it’s never good news.”

9. Okay, okay — this is one sentence plus one extra word. But that one extra word makes all the difference.

“It wasn’t even five o’clock and Milo had already murdered Mrs Appleby. Twice.”

10. “Aubrey Fitzwilliam hated being dead.”

11. “Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.”

12. “All children, except one, grow up.”

13. “Later, while I was facing the Potter Moth, or fleeing for my life from the First Ones, or helping man a cannon aboard Jack Havock’s brig Sophronia, I would often think back to the way my life used to be, and to that last afternoon at Larklight, before all our misfortunes began.”

14. “Through the ruin of a city stalked the ruin of a man.”

15. “Something eerie came over European civilization in the early twentieth century and led to a madness which was called ‘the Great War’.”

So there you have it — some of my favourite opening sentences. They probably say more about me than the books they come from. There are probably other ones out there that I may like better… but either I haven’t read them yet, or I read them so long ago that I can’t remember them, or I was simply unable to get my hands onto a copy of the relevant book to check the quote.

But what about all you people out there in the blogosphere? What are your favs? Leave and comment and share an opening sentence.

And tune in next time for some random quotes.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Here are the books:

1. The War of the Worlds by HG Wells, 1898.

2. Neuromancer, William Gibson, 1984.

3. Angels and Demons, Dan Brown, 2000.

4. The Inner Circle, Gary Crew, 1986.

5. After the First Death, Robert Cormier, 1979.

6. Northern Lights, Philip Pullman, 1995.

7. Glory Road, Robert Heinlein, 1963.

8. Stormbreaker, Anthony Horowitz, 2000.

9. The Slightly Skewed Life of Toby Chrysler, Paul Collins, 2009.

10. Blaze of Glory, Michael Pryor, 2006.

11. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Dauglas Adams, 1979.

12. Peter Pan, JM Barrie, 1911.

13. Larklight, Philip Reeve, 2006.

14. Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth, Terrance Dicks, 1977.

15. The First A.I.F.: A Study of its Recruitment 1914-1918, LL Robson, 1970.

Kirstyn McDermott and Madigan Mine

This month Kirstyn McDermott’s first novel, Madigan Mine, hits the shelves. Kirstyn is well known for her short fiction and involvement with the Australian Horror Writers Association. Today, she has stopped by at Literary Clutter to tell us about her journey from short fiction to novel. Take it away Kirstyn…

The writing and publishing of Madigan Mine
By Kirstyn McDermott

Some time ago, when I was still in primary school, I decided that I was going to be a writer. Of course, being very young and largely uneducated, I had no idea what this career path entailed other than the notion that I would need to Write Books – very much like the many books which crammed the shelves of my mother’s bookcases, only with more ponies in them. Or monsters. Or possibly both. Certainly, I had no idea that the road leading to the publication of my first novel would prove to be such a long and winding and ultimately unexpected one.

Madigan Mine began almost fifteen years ago with the small spark of an idea that I intended to write up as a short story. To be honest, I really am a short story writer at heart. I have more ideas than I know what to do with, and almost none of them are suitable for a novel-length work. Which is fine with me – if I had the time and means, I sometimes think I could quite happily spend the rest of my life writing nothing else but short fiction. Very occasionally, however, a story idea will expand. The characters involved will grow and demand more space. This is what happened with Madigan and the tale that surrounded her. Funnily enough, the novel now bears very little resemblance to that original idea – even the character names are different, and the story would have ended pretty much where the novel begins.

Memory is fickle and computer files have been lost, but I think I began actually writing Madigan Mine about twelve years ago. It went through several revisions and rewrites and enjoyed a handful of lengthy sojourns in various incarnations at various publishers, but always came back with its tail tucked firmly between its legs. Sometimes there was an encouraging note tied to its collar. Sometimes intensive flea treatment was recommended. A common thread ran through the rejections: the novel was interesting, and even well-written, but no one quite seemed to know exactly what to do with it.

Common wisdom advises that a writer should persevere no matter the odds, that she should doggedly submit her manuscript to every possible market and, if that fails, start again from the beginning. Common wisdom also counsels that a writer needs to recognise when a manuscript simply isn’t working and be willing to put it aside and move on to something new. Reluctantly, after too many years of treading water, I chose the latter option. Madigan Mine was wrapped in a shroud and deposited in the proverbial bottom drawer, seemingly never to be heard from again. I began work on a New Novel instead.

Then early last year, completely out of the blue, I received an email from a Lovely Gentleman at Picador. He had read several of my short stories – I had been writing and publishing short fiction in between my periodic wrestles with Madigan – and wanted to know if I had a novel-length manuscript he could see. You could have knocked me over with barely an asthmatic breath. With my New Novel nowhere near finished, I offered up Madigan Mine. Sure, he said, pop the whole thing in the post at once. No worries, I said, just let me give it a quick spit and polish.

Two weeks of very little sleep and back-breaking, eye-straining, finger-cramping rewrites later, Madigan Mine was on the way to Picador HQ. And the rest, as they say, is history. Well, kinda. The rest is actually more rewriting, and editing, and line-editing, and copy-editing and all the hard work that turns a novel-length manuscript into an actual novel. But now, standing on the other side of my publication date, I can safely say that all this time and energy has been very well spent. I’m a much better writer than I was a decade ago, and Madigan Mine is a much, much better book for it.

Even if there aren’t any ponies.

George’s bit at the end

Thanks Kirstyn for dropping in at Literary Clutter. I recently progressed from writing short stories and short children’s books to my first novel, so I really enjoyed reading about your experiences. And I now look forward to reading Madigan Mine.

If you’d like to know more about Kirstyn and her writing, check out her website.

And tune in next time to read some of my favourite opening lines.

Catch ya later,  George

Self-publishing Coaby

Often, when discussing the difficulties of getting published, I’ve had people say to me: “Why don’t you just publish it yourself?” Why, indeed? Self-publishing, done properly, takes a special determination, a singular belief in one’s work, a great deal of marketing knowledge, an extraordinary amount of work… oh yeah, and money.

It’s not for me because I would rather put all my efforts into the writing. And I’ve seen far too many botched self-publishing attempts, with unrealistically high expectations countered by poor manuscripts, no planning and no hope. But for someone who has the necessary knowledge and drive, and a really good manuscript, self-publishing can indeed be the way to go.

Today at Literary Clutter, we have a guest post from David McLean, who recently self-published his YA novel, Finding Coaby. I read an early incomplete version of the manuscript quite a while back and was struck by its insight and potential. Dealing with teenage depression, I thought that this novel would be hard to sell to a publisher. So I was delighted to recently receive an invitation to the book’s launch.

David had decided to self-publish. Here are this thoughts on the whole process…

Self-publishing Finding Coaby
By David McLean

Self publishing is not about writing. Self publishing is about placing your writing in the context and perspective of generating words to reach a market.

The writing of Finding Coaby, my first adolescent novel, was actually the easy part — but it was not the first step, or the last, in the whole process.

The novel commenced as an idea — for which I had my niece to thank. It was her experience with adolescent depression that gave an impetus to the writing. I talked to my niece and used her journal to give substance to the writing.

The first draft began the whole reviewing process and a reality check. The advice I was given involved having the correct word count to correspond to the number of printable pages to make a commercial book.

Others reviewed the book — people whose opinions I respected. In other words, I needed to remove myself and my bias about the writing, and view things critically, as a publisher.

With the writing finished and drafts edited, the design and layout was next on the agenda. My good fortune was to have neighbours who owned a photographic studio and their daughter who was a suitable age to be a model. I had my cover design. This alone could have cost me over $1000 dollars if done professionally and not as a favour.

I applied to register an ISBN number. You can call yourself a publisher once you have this number regardless of the quality of the book. You also need the money to pay for it.

A graphic artist set out the pages and formally designed a cover. He charged by the hour. Each adjustment was costing money. I liaised about the layout concerns that worried me and, at the same time, saw errors in my own writing (and grammar) that needed to be corrected. Whatever you think, you can’t see them all. I hadn’t employed a professional editor, thinking I knew what to look for. But here’s another $1000 that had to be made available. The time investment was considerable and you have to be meticulous, which diverges considerably from the creative writing process.

The PDF file was then sent to the printer. If you pay, they’ll print. The cost will vary depending on the number of pages, the need for colour and the volume you want printed.

Marketing is next on the agenda and the most important. You need to have a market in mind and channels of access even before you start writing. It’s no good printing a book unless you have a means of letting people know. Think about the possibility of reviews in print and through other media. Have access to mailing lists of interested parties. And the writing of copy will have to be even more creative than the original text.

In all, the writing of Finding Coaby was but a small component of the overall process. You need to be conversant in marketing, editing, layout and design, and the language of printing to realize and release a book. You also need the money to pay for each stage. You can learn a lot, however, about why writers are only offered 10% royalties.

George’s bit at the end

David has taken a brave step in self-publishing his novel. But, given his background, I think the venture has a high chance of success. David has been an English teacher for many years and has, in fact, headed a number of English departments in prominent schools over the years. He has written a topical book that is likely to appeal to the schools market and he has the knowledge to market it to that sector. He also has previous experience in marketing to that sector, having run Video Interaction, a company that produces educational resources for classroom use, since 1991. So he has not stumbled blindly into the self-publishing arena, as so many other first-time authors have. So it is with much admiration that I wish him the best of luck.

To learn more about Find Coaby, check out the official website.

And tune in next time for author Kirstyn McDermott.

Catch ya later,  George

Travelling in the TARDIS with Stephen Dedman

Doctor Who! Yep, I’m still on that topic. The greatest television show ever made! The best tie-in books in existence! As the fifth season of the current series nears its conclusion on Australian television, I am joined by Aussie author Stephen Dedman.

As well as writing short stories, role-playing games and numerous novels including For a Fistful of Data and Foreign Bodies, Stephen has also dabbled in the world of the good Doctor…

From London to Prague
by Stephen Dedman

In 2005, Steven Savile told me he was editing an anthology of Doctor Who stories, Short Trips: Destination London, and asked if I were interested in writing for it. I’d wanted to write for Doctor Who for decades – I’d tried selling a script for the show in 1985, then an adventure for the role-playing game, and had toyed with the idea of writing a novel for the Missing Adventures series – and so I jumped at the chance.

Rather than have England invaded by yet another race of monsters, I decided to pit the Doctor against human tyranny. I looked up the timeline of Earth history in my copy of What’s What and Who’s Who, found a suitable century, and came up with an outline for a story set largely in the British Museum which featured cameos by William Shakespeare, Winston Churchill, Eric Blair (George Orwell), and others.

A few days before the deadline, I was informed that the setting had been changed to Prague, so there went that story. I had never been to Prague, so I looked it up in a Lonely Planet guidebook. Golems. Franz Kafka. Karel Capek. Defenestrations. Torture museum. Interesting architecture, largely unscathed by the world wars. Okay.

I sent off an outline about a paranoid Kafka enthusiast who reprograms the city’s nanotech to enact Kafkaesque revenge on his enemies, starting with a recreation of the Harrow from ‘In the Penal Colony’ inside the torture museum. And crossed my fingers.

Steven liked the idea, and I started writing the story. I had deliberately been non-committal about which Doctor and which companions would best fit into the story, so I was delighted when I was assigned the Fourth Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan. This meant I could buy and watch DVDs of some of my favourite episodes and call it research. Better still, the DVDs became a tax deductible work expense.

Coincidentally, a friend of mine who is also an avid Doctor Who fan was honeymooning in Prague, so I would periodically send him questions about the city. So did three other Australian writers. I gather he enjoyed the honeymoon despite this.

So I finished the story, managing to squeeze in references to Rabbi Loew’s golem, Capek, Kafka’s Metamorphosis, four Doctor Who episodes, and The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (as well as an in-joke that made one of my fellow writers exhale Coca-cola in public), and sent it to Steven. It was published, in excellent company, in 2007, more than 23 years after my first attempt to write for the show.

Would I do it again? Absolutely! I had great fun writing the story; besides, how could I turn down a chance to deduct my Doctor Who DVDs?

George’s bit at the end
My thanks to Stephen for stopping by. If you’d like to know more about Stephen Dedman and his writing, check out his website.

Aren’t tax deductions wonderful? They are a writer’s best friend. I too started tax deducting Doctor Who DVDs the moment I was asked to write a Doctor Who story. And I too would jump at the chance of delving back into the Doctor Who universe. Perhaps, one day, I’ll write a post about all my failed endeavours to do so. 🙂

In the meantime, we will be leaving the topic of Doctor Who for a while, in favour of some other literary pursuits. But fear not, for Doctor Who will return to Literary Clutter in the not too distant future.

Tune in next time as we find out about David McLean’s first YA novel Finding Coaby.

Catch ya later,  George

Travelling in the TARDIS with Robert Hood

Today has certainly been a day of political interest here on Australia’s fair shores. But have no fear, there will be no talk of Prime Ministers, political parties or mining taxes here at Literary Clutter. Instead, I’m sticking with the topic I introduced last time — Doctor Who. My last post was about the literally hundreds of books dealing with this television series. Now it’s time to meet some authors who have played in the Doctor Who universe.

Between 2002 and 2009, Big Finish Productions in the UK published 29 Short Trips books. These were short story anthologies featuring the first eight incarnations of the Doctor. I myself was lucky enough to be published within the pages of one of these books — Short Trips: Defining Patterns. If you want to find out about my experience of writing Doctor Who, check out my guest post over at the Great (book) Expectations blog — “My little fan-boy moment”.

In the meantime, let me introduce Aussie author Robert Hood. As well as having written several novels, including Backstreets and The Shades series, and a plethora of short stories, Robert has had the chance to delve into the universe of Doctor Who. Take it away, Robert…

Me and the Doctor: “Gold and Black Ooze” from Doctor Who Short Trips: Destination Prague
by Robert Hood

As a longtime stalker of the Doctor (since the show was first aired in Australia in 1965 – when I was 12), I was naturally overcome with nerdish glee when Steve Savile suggested I should submit to a Doctor Who: Short Trips anthology he was editing for Big Finish.

The competitive process involved choosing a Doctor (from Hartnell to McGann) along with an appropriate companion and a storyline, then waiting for a response. I chose the unpopular Sixth Doctor. I liked Colin Baker’s quirky interpretation, even if the scripts he was saddled with were mostly rather dire.

The theme – Prague – was designed to take the Doctor away from the more familiar environs of London into a European city rich in turbulent history. While researching that history, I came across the fact that in 1648 in Prague the alchemist Richthausen had supposedly transmuted mercury into gold in the presence of Ferdinand III – so I decided I’d use that. My Prague, however, was haunted by a “bizarre metallic creature” – and besides, the Doctor had been headed for Prague in 4240 AD, so why was it looking exactly the way it had in 1648 – and why was it surrounded by a sea of nanotech tar?

The story fit nicely into the Doctor’s established “history”, coming after the events of “Revelation of the Daleks”. In that story Peri accidently breaks the Doctor’s favourite watch. So I decided that the Doc would naturally want to get the watch fixed. And as everyone knows, the watchmakers of Prague in 4240 AD are the best in the galaxy.

For research I re-watched Baker’s episodes, used the terrific website The Whoniverse to check continuity and, when the outline was accepted, scoured Google to become more familiar with Prague in the 15th century, not just in terms of its history and politics but also at a ground level. With Peri and the Doctor doing their usual running through the streets, I needed to know where everything was located, relatively speaking. Writing the story – and in particular making sure the Doctor and Peri sounded and acted right – was an exciting challenge and a lot of fun. The BBC not only approved the story but also used it in their pre-publicity.

It seems to me that, unlike other franchises, Doctor Who offers much more artistic freedom to writers – within limits. Don’t kill the Doctor. Don’t kill his established companions. The only change that was required to my story was to something I knew was a bit cheeky. The Sixth Doctor didn’t have his sonic screwdriver during that period, but I put it in anyway – a version knocked-up by the Doctor and subsequently cannibalized to defeat the monster from the nano-tar. I destroyed it at the end so everything reverted back to the official timeline. No good, however. It had to go. So I re-made it into a different gadget and all was well.

Writing for Doctor Who was a unique experience and I love the fact that my story of the Doctor is now part of his official canon.

Would I do it again? In a (double) heartbeat!

George’s bit at the end

My thanks to Robert for stopping by. If you’d like to know more about Robert Hood and his writing, check out his website.

And tune in next time for another trip in the TARDIS, this time with author Stephen Dedman.

Catch ya later,  George

Doctor Who books

Here it is! At long last! The post I have been threatening you all with since I began writing Literary Clutter. The post you have all been waiting for with bated breath… The first Doctor Who post.

Now, for those of you who do not know what Doctor Who is (because, clearly you’ve been living under rock for the last 47 years), I should explain that it is the longest running science fiction series, ever. First going to air in the UK in 1963, it lasted for 26 seasons, finally being cancelled in 1989. But, just like its main character, it would not die. It came back for a tele-movie in 1996 and then a revived series starting in 2005, and is still going strong. The principal character, known only as the Doctor, is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. He travels in a time/space machine called the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space). The TARDIS is dimensionally transcendental, which means that it is bigger on the inside than the outside. It is also able to change its external appearance to blend in with its surroundings — at least, it’s meant to. It’s actually broken and is stuck in the shape of a 1960s police call box.

One of the most remarkable things about this series is its ability to change lead actors. You see, the Doctor, like all Time Lords, has the ability to regenerate. When his body wears out, or if it is damaged, instead of dying, he changes — becomes a new person. So over the years, he has been played by 11 different actors — William Hartnell (1963-1966), Patrick Troughton (1966-1969 ), Jon Pertwee (1970-1974), Tom Baker (1974-1981), Peter Davison (1982-1984), Colin Baker (1984-1986) Sylvester McCoy (1987-1996), Paul McGann (1996), Christopher Eccleston (2005), David Tennant (2005-2010), and Matt Smith (2010-??).

Doctor Who has gone way beyond its humble television origins. Aside from the numerous television spin offs (K9 and Co, Sarah Jane Adventures, Torchwood and the new K9 series), Doctor Who has resulted in feature films, radio plays, CD audio adventures, computer games, toys, comics, magazines and, of course, books. Lots and lots and lots of books. Hundreds of them, in fact.

It all started with the novelisations published by Target Books (later taken over by Virgin Publishing). There were 156 books published in this series, with only 5 of the original series stories left un-novelised. I used to love these books as a kid. I would read and re-read them. Hardly a week would go by without me reading at least one of them. I have particularly fond memories of Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth by Terrance Dicks, which was my most often re-read Doctor Who book.

Things didn’t end with this series of novelistations. After the series was cancelled in 1989, Virgin Publishing began a range of New Adventures books, original novels set after the series, continuing the adventures of the seventh incarnation of the Doctor. Then there was the Missing Adventures books, original novels featuring earlier incarnations of the Doctor, set during the events of the series, but between televised stories. And so it went on and on. After the tele-movie in 1996, which featured a new eighth Doctor, there were more books. And now with the new series, we have another range of original novels featuring Doctors #9 through #11.

Sadly, with the recent demise of the Short Trips anthologies, a series of short story books from Big Finish Productions (the company that also produces the Doctor Who audio adventures), there are no longer any new books featuring the older set of Doctors. I keep hoping that the BBC will one day again licence a publisher to do more novels with the earlier Doctors. In the meantime, there are the current series books and the books based on the Doctor Who spinoff series Torchwood and Sarah Jane Adventures.

Doctor Who books had a huge influence on me as a kid. They fuelled my interest in the television series between seasons, and in science fiction in general. Although I no longer religiously read all the books, I do still occasionally dip into the Doctor Who literary ocean. The last one I read was Doctor Who: The Story of Martha, and as I look over my shoulder to my to-be-read pile, I can see three other Doctor Who books as well as a Torchwood novel. I’m also rather looking forward to the upcoming Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles, by the well-known science fiction author Michael Moorcock.

Want to know more about Doctor Who books? Check out the TARDIS library, a very comprehensive listing.

So… any other Doctor Who fans out there? What are your favourite Doctor Who books? Leave a comment below.

And stay tuned for more Doctor Who, as over the next couple of posts, Literary Clutter will be visited by a few authors who have had the good fortune to play in the Doctor Who universe.

Catch ya later,  George

Contemporary fury and historical shadows

What have I been reading lately? I’m glad you asked! In Lonnie’s Shadow by Chrissie Michaels, Fury by Shirley Marr and TimeRiders by Alex Scarrow. All three are YA. But they are three very different books. And at least two of them are a notch above your average YA novel.

First up, In Lonnie’s Shadow by Chrissie Michaels. This is a historical novel inspired by the archaeological excavations around Lonsdale Street in the city of Melbourne, the artefacts from which were displayed at a Melbourne Museum exhibit. These artefacts are ordinary things, part of everyday life in 19th century Melbourne. Each chapter of In Lonnie’s Shadow is headed by an artefact’s name, number and description, rather than by a standard chapter number and title. And somewhere within the chapter, that particular item is alluded to. It could easily have been contrived and intrusive, but the author handles it with subtlety and aplomb. In her hands it is a wonderfully original, intriguing and evocative way into the story.

Lonnie McGuiness is a teenage resident of the area known as Little Lon — an area of poverty and hard knocks, looked down on by the rest of Melbourne in 1891. Lonnie is a stable-hand who dreams of being a jockey. He gets caught up in an illegal street race, which he discovers has been fixed. It is a story of struggles and survival… but most importantly, it is a story of friendship between Lonnie and his three best mates: Pearl, a prostitute caught between two rival brothels, desperate to get away from both; Daisy, a Salvation Army do-gooder with a mysterious past who moonlights as a seamstress, making dresses for one of the brothels; and Carlo, who operates a fruit cart but dreams of opening an ice cream factory. Four lives that cross paths; four teenagers who help each other out and stick together.

There is a lot of wonderful historical detail and atmosphere in this novel. The author certainly seems to have done her research. The characters are vivid and sympathetic. The Melbourne setting is both familiar and completely alien. As a Melbournian, I found the landmarks and place names were known to me (the Exhibition Building and its iconic fountain, for instance), but the poverty and squalor of the characters lives were an eye-opener. I can see this book being well-used in schools to help bring a historic period to life in the minds of students. It’s an enthralling read.

At the other end of the scale we have the very contemporary Fury, by Shirley Marr (who, incidentally, has visited Literary Clutter in the past).

“My name is Eliza Boans and I am a murderer.”

How’s that for a great opening line? This book had me hooked from word go and I found it very hard to put down. It’s about a high school girl and her friends who get caught up in murder. It’s also about friendship and the day-to-day dramas of teenage life in high school. It’s funny. It’s dramatic. It’s sad. It’s a really riveting read.

It’s also particularly interesting for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, it is told with flash-backs. Eliza has been arrested and is sitting in a police station talking to anthropologist Dr Fadden, while refusing to see her mother. Slowly, over the course of several conversations, Eliza opens up and tells us about the events leading up to her arrest.

Secondly, Eliza, the main character, is thoroughly unlikeable. She is a spoiled rich kid living in a walled suburb and attending an exclusive private school. She is a bitchy, smart-mouthed, sarcastic, snobby brat who is even nasty to her own friends. Oh yeah, and she’s a complete control freak. And yet, somehow, Marr manages to elicit sympathy for this character. Maybe it’s because we get a bit of an insight into her past and how she came to be who she is. In any case, there were several moments where I found myself taking her side in conflicts — these moments were usually followed by a double-take as I reminded myself that I didn’t like Eliza and so I had no business taking her side. Hats off to the author for achieving this. It is rare for me to enjoy a book with an unlikeable protagonist.

Eliza aside, there are many interesting and memorable characters in this book — from Eliza’s trio of girlfriends, Marianne, Lexi and Ella, to the sympathetic and likeable student Neil, whose past is inextricably linked with Eliza’s. Neil was easily my favourite. I’d like to tell you why, but that would necessitate spoilers. All I’ll say is that there is a great deal of subtlety to his character.

Although this book seems aimed mostly at teenage girls, I think there’s a lot in it for other readers as well. It’s a thoughtful, well constructed novel… and a great read!

Finally, there’s the science fiction, time-travel adventure TimeRiders, by Alex Scarrow. I’ve already reviewed this book for the MC Review website, so if you’re interested you can go there to see what I thought of this clichéd but entertaining yarn.

So… anyone out there read anything really interesting lately? Feel free to share your literary adventures with the rest of us in the comments section below.

And tune in next time for a little bit of Doctor Who.

Catch ya later,  George

More short stories

I love short stories so much, that one post just wasn’t enough. So here I am, with my second post about them.

Blackwater DaysLast time I mentioned Neil Gaiman and Peter Ustinov as two of my favourite story writers. Let me now add Aussie author Terry Dowling to that list. He writes science fiction and dark fantasy with an absolutely unique style and approach. I have had to read some of his stories a second or even third time before finally having things click into place. Don’t let this put you off. Each and every story of his that I have read has been well worth the effort. Many of his stories are connected, dealing with the same characters and settings. He is probably best know for his Tom Tyson stories, amazingly vivid tales sets in a future Australian landscape, collected in four volumes — Rynosseros, Blue Tyson, Twilight Beach and Rynemonn. But my favourite of his stories are those collected in Blackwater Days, all set in an around the Blackwater Psychiatric Hospital, which begin with the following line:

“When shadows move in Casna Park and the wind is in the trees, I can’t help but see it as the most terrifying place in the world.”

To find out more about Terry Dowling, check out his website.

Although my latest book is a novel, I began my writing career with short stories. My very first book, published way back in 1999 (and now sadly out of print) was a collection of YA stories about life in high school, Life, Death and Detention. Even my current novel, Gamers’ Quest, is connected to short stories. It is based on “Game Plan”, a short story published in Trust Me!, a YA anthology edited by Paul Collins. After the novel was complete, I went on to write a further two stories about some of the characters, for the book’s website.

Last year, I had a story called “Photographic Memory” appear in the first issue of [untitled]. Early this year I had the great pleasure of launching the second issue. Now, as [untitled] prepares for its third issue, publisher Blaise van Hecke has dropped by to tell us a little about this mag.

I’d thought about starting up a writers’ magazine but soon put the idea away as being something too hard for one person. But when Les Zigomanis came to me at the end of 2008 and made the suggestion, I was more than willing to give it a go.

[untitled] was born as a forum for storytelling and a way for new and emerging writers to have a voice. This is our mission statement:

[untitled] has no pretentious literary aspirations. Nor is it on a crusade to ennoble some ethereal literary collective, or enrich the community – literary or otherwise. It doesn’t really want to change the world – sorry, but it doesn’t. Because for as unique and enlightened and even sublime as that endeavour would seem, it’s all been done before, it’s all been tried before.

It just wants to be about stories.

It wants you to forget every manner in which you’ve been conditioned, and remember what it’s like to read, to enjoy, and to escape.

The physical form of [untitled] is what has set it apart from other writers’ magazines that are on the market. Firstly, it isn’t actually a magazine because it’s pocket-sized and it has no articles or non-fiction. Call it a journal if you will.

I like to call it a pocketbook.

[untitled] is run purely on the goodwill of talented editors, led by Les Zigomanis, who give up their valuable time to read submissions and give diligent editing advice to new writers, all for no remuneration. We hope this changes as our reputation grows. With two issues out in the marketplace, we’ve come a long way in a short time. Our goals are to be able to pay the editing team and of course the writers for their stories.

In the meantime, the printing of the publication is funded by our business, Busybird Publishing & Design. Kev (my husband) and I do the entire layout and design. It’s very much been a matter of ‘pay the printer and cross our fingers that we make the money back’.

All that hard work is very gratifying when we get continued respect and comments on the publication (both its physical form and the quality of the stories). This is what Kalinda Ashton, recent recipient of the SMH Best Young Novelist 2010 and author of The Danger Game, has to say about it:

“[untitled] is a desperately-needed place and space for short stories at a time in Australia when most publications are eschewing that form. Courageous, curious and an admirable project”.

Now that we’ve had a taste for the publishing racket, we’ve got other ideas for future projects. Currently, we’re writing up a proposal for a book called ‘Journey’ which will be a collection of stories from men and women who’ve had experience with breast cancer. We’ll be calling for submissions soon and we’re aiming to have this out in October 2011.

Thanks Blaze. For more info about [untitled] and for submission guidelines check out the website.

And so, dear readers, this brings us to the end of the short story posts. All that’s left for me to do is ask you who your favourite short story writers are? Leave a comment and share your opinions.

And tune in next time to find out what I’ve been reading lately.

Catch ya later,  George

Short stories

I love short stories! I love reading them and I love writing them. So I’m going to take a couple of posts to blather on about them.

I adore the way a short story can force a writer to cut through the waffle and get straight to the core of the plot. With a novel you have umpteen thousand words to create your world, set the scene, introduce your characters and slowly unravel your plot. But not so with the short story, because… well… it’s short.  🙂

I’ve read a lot of short stories over the years and there are a few writers who really stand out for me as masters of the form. Neil Gaiman, for instance. Yes, I know, he’s best known for his novels and comics, but it is as a short story writer that I believe he truly excels. “Murder Mysteries”, a story about the angel Raguel, who was “the Vengeance of the Lord”, is one that comes to mind. But my absolute favourite is “Nicholas Was…” — a Christmas story with a difference, that is exactly 100 words long.

“Nicholas Was…
older than sin, and his beard could grow no whiter. He wanted to die.”

If you’re able to locate a copy, I’d highly recommend checking out Gaiman’s collection, Smoke and Mirrors.

The late, great Sir Peter Ustinov is probably best remembered as an actor, but he was also a masterful writer of short stories. Loaded with wit, compassion, interesting characters and an incredible depth of knowledge, his stories are a joy to read. “Add a Dash of Pity” (the title story from his collection Add a Dash of Pity) is my favourite of his stories, and here’s my favourite sentence from it:

“He looked at her as though seeing her for the first time, and kissed her as if they were not yet married.”

Short and ScaryAs a writer, one of the things that I love about short stories is that I’m able to dip in to many subjects and many genres. Just look at my three most recently published short stories.

“Trees”, published in Short and Scary, edited by Karen Tayleur, is a YA horror about two teens in a forest of vengeful trees.

“Feather-light”, published in Belong, edited by Russell B Farr, is a fantasy about a straight guy who falls for a gay angel who has been exiled from exile.

“Future Dreaming”, published in Under the Weather: Stories about climate change, edited by Tony Bradman, is a kids’ story about climate change and how the actions of individuals can influence the future.

A number of years ago, my wife and I went on a holiday to Egypt. While there, we climbed Mt Sinai and visited St Katherine’s monastery, situated at the foot of the mountain. This visit inspired me to write a science fiction story, called “The Last Monk”, which was published in 2002 in issue 30 of Aurealis – Australian Fantasy & Science Fiction. I’m very happy to say that this magazine, now at issue 42, is still going strong. I invited Stuart Mayne, the current editor, to tell us a little about the mag.

Aurealis is Australia’s most successful science fiction and fantasy (SF) magazine. When the first issue appeared in September 1990 something began that had never been produced before in Australia: a professional mass market SF magazine. Before Aurealis there were hundreds of thousands of avid SF readers in Australia, but the amount of Australian SF they were reading was miniscule. Aurealis has changed that, and launched dozens of new writers, who have become established writers. Now, most of the major publishers in Australia have a local SF list. In addition, the Aurealis Awards for Excellence in Australian Speculative Fiction were established in 1995 and have become the premier SF awards, highly prized by producers and publishers alike.

Aurealis began when Stephen Higgins and Dirk Strasser met in a short story writing class. Stephen and Dirk shared an interest in science fiction and fantasy in the face of a teacher and fellow students who, at best, viewed them with a total lack of comprehension. Then, one evening, sitting, around one said, ‘I’ve always wanted to start a science fiction and fantasy magazine’ to which the other replied, ‘Me too.’ That was the moment when Aurealis was born. This year Aurealis celebrates a record breaking twenty years of continuous publication: a remarkable contribution to the Australian literary landscape.

Aurealis focuses on publishing Australian SF. It provides Australian SF writers with a steady, reliable market and continues to play a defining and pivotal role in the promotion and acceptance of Australian science fiction, fantasy and horror. We have kicked off the careers of many bestselling speculative fiction authors, including Michael Pryor, Shaun Tan and our beloved former Art Director, Trudi Canavan.

Thanks for stopping by, Stuart. To find out more about Aurealis, and to see their submission guidelines, check out their website.

And tune in next time for some more short stories.

Catch ya later,  George

Aussiecon 4

Aussiecon 4 is coming soon and I can hardly wait! “What is it?” I hear you ask. Aussiecon 4 is the 68th World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon, for short). And it’s going to be in Melbourne. To say that I am excited, is an understatement.

Today, I’ve invited long-time Worldcon attendee, Laurie Mann, to tell you a little bit about this amazing annual event.

When the Worldcon comes to your neck of the world…
by Laurie Mann, longtime science fiction fan

For the fourth time since 1975, the World Science Fiction Convention is coming to Melbourne. Aussiecon 4 will be held at the futuristic Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre from September 2-6. If you love science fiction and fantasy, especially SF and fantasy books, this is the convention for you.

Aussiecon 4 has renowned guests of honour:  writer Kim Stanley Robinson and artist Shaun Tan, as well as fan Robin Johnson. [Note from George: Conventions like these have a long-standing tradition of inviting a fan guest of honour — someone who has contributed a great deal to the science fiction community, involving themselves in the running of conventions, clubs, etc.] Young adult author Garth Nix will serve as the MC for the Hugo Awards Ceremony.

Worldcon is an annual get-together of fans, writers, artists and publishers from all over the world. Worldcon members have the chance to choose from hundreds of panel discussions, readings and autograph sessions. You’ll be able to visit an Art Show with hundreds of pieces of original art, and a Dealers’ Room where you can buy, amongst other things, books, jewellery, DVDs, and T-shirts. You can attend a big event every night, including the Hugo Awards, a Masquerade and a gathering of horror writers.

Aside from the planned events, one of the great things about a Worldcon is the unplanned events: having a long discussion with other fans at a party about the current trend in dystopic fiction; running into your favourite author in a bar and buying him/her a drink; meeting a fan from Orlando, Florida who grew up down the street from you in Sydney.

Aussiecon 4 will attract a few thousand people from all over the world, including writers like Paul Cornell, Cory Doctorow, Ellen Kushner, George RR Martin, Sean McMullen, Robert Silverberg, Melinda Snodgrass and Ian Tregillis, and editors including Ginger Buchanan, Ellen Datlow and Jonathan Strahan.  Science fiction is often called the “literature of ideas”; at Worldcon, you’ll hear all kind of ideas discussed at great length.

Jim and Laurie Mann

I’ve been going to Worldcon since 1976, and this will be my first Australian Worldcon. Despite the fact that I’ve never been to Australia, I’ll probably know a couple of hundred of the attendees. That’s one of the great things about Worldcons; once you start going to them, you’ll always know people to hang out with, go to panels with, volunteer with…

George’s bit at the end

If you’d like to know more about Aussiecon 4, check out their website.

I’ll be attending Aussiecon 4 in a triple capacity. Firstly as a long-time reader of science fiction and fantasy, eager to meet fellow readers and to hear some of my favourite authors speak. Secondly as an author myself, to speak on panels, do a reading or two and participate in book signings. Thirdly as a Boomerang Books blogger, to report on the event for those of you who can’t make it.

Thanks, Laurie, for stopping by Literary Clutter. I look forward to meeting you at Aussiecon 4.

Aussiecon 4 will be my third Worldcon. Has anyone else out there been to a Worldcon? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

Tune in next time to hear me ramble on about how much I love short stories.

Catch ya later,  George

Carole Wilkinson talks about sugar

Sugar SugarA few posts ago I mentioned Carole Wilkinson’s new YA novel Sugar Sugar (see Family reading). Today, Carole has dropped by Literary Clutter to answer a few questions about Sugar Sugar and writing in general.

The Sugar Sugar blurb

Jackie has left Australia with a psychedelic suitcase and a dream to become a world-famous fashion designer. She knows exactly where she’s going and how she’s going to get there. So how does a weekend in Paris send her spinning off-course? How does she end up somewhere she couldn’t even find on a map?

The interview

There have been a few comments flying about that writing YA is a bit of a change for you. Granted, you’re best known for your children’s books, but your first novel, Stage Fright, was YA. Why has it taken you so long to write another YA novel?

I don’t really know why it has taken me so long. I guess I was comfortable with the middle years and this took me out of my comfort zone.

Was is difficult going back to YA after so many children’s books?

Yes. I thought it would be liberating being able to write about sex and drugs and rock n roll, but it was hard. Not addressing these issues at all is a whole lot easier than addressing them and then deciding how far to go!

RamoseYou have a real affinity for historical novels — ancient Egypt in the Ramose books, and then ancient China in the Dragonkeeper books. With Sugar Sugar you’re not going back quite so far. Why did you choose to set Sugar Sugar in the 1970s? And any reason for the specific year of 1972?

That’s when this sort of travel was happening. That’s when John [Carole’s husband] and I travelled along the hippie trail. A few years later, it wasn’t possible because Afghanistan became a war zone and Iran had a fundamentalist government. It really was a narrow window in time when it was possible to travel through those countries.

You mention in the acknowledgements that this is the first of your books to draw on personal experience. Any reason you’ve waited so long to use your personal experiences as inspiration?

I don’t know. It’s probably the most interesting thing I’ve ever done. My very first (unpublished) novel was an attempt to write a story using the same scenario. I’ve always wanted to go back to it and try again. I think this was the time that was right for me and my publisher.

Can you tell us a bit about your travels? Were they as filled with accidental adventures as Jackie’s?

Some of the incidents are from our experience: we did overturn a vehicle, we did travel in the back of an army truck for four days in the wilds of Afghanistan. But I also used the experiences of friends who made a similar journey. The converted London taxi came from a friend, as did the experience of getting hepatitis in  Afghanistan. When we travelled it was all about finding a place to sleep, food to eat and somewhere to have a shower! No real adventures. Though we did think we were going to be arrested for dumping our van in Morocco.

What do you hope people will get from reading Sugar Sugar?

I dunno… it has my usual theme of female self-empowerment! I like my girls to look out for themselves, none of that wishy-washy, I-need-a-man-to-save-me Twilight heroine business. I’m not suggesting that people take unnecessary risks, but I think it can be valuable to put yourself out of your comfort zone every once in a while, to test your resilience. Ultimately I just hope readers enjoy the story.

Is this a stand-alone novel, or are you planning further adventures for Jackie?

I have no plans for another novel about Jackie.

So then, what’s next for Carole Wilkinson, assuming your next project isn’t top secret?

I’m currently writing a book for the Black Dog Books’ Drum series about a World War I battle. (I like variety!) I am starting to consider the possibility of another Dragonkeeper book.

DaragonkeeperThe bit at the end

Well, another Dragnonkeep book would keep the fans happy. I’m certainly excited by the possibility.

My thanks to Carole for stopping by and answering my questions. For more info about Carole and her books, check out her website.

Tune in next time for a preview of the upcoming World Science Fiction Convention being held in Melbourne later this year.

Catch ya later,  George

Beyond the literature of steampunk

It seems that steampunk has grown beyond simply being a literary sub-genre. It has made its way out into the real world like no other genre, with the possible exception of gothic fiction. It has become a style, not just for cosplay, but for day-to-day accessories and decorating.

Cosplay, the art of making and wearing costumes for fun, has been around for a long time. Often centred around Japanese anime or particular science fiction/fantasy films and television shows (Star Trek and Star Wars spring to mind here), there is a growing steampunk costuming fashion.

Ever since the Australian Costumers Guild moved it’s base of operations from Melbourne to Adelaide, South Australia seems to have become the Australian capital of steampunk cosplay. They even have a group dedicated to steampunk — Adelaide Steampunk. They run costumed events and are currently planning a steampunk fashion display to be held at AvCon (Adelaide’s Anime and Video Games Convention).

Steampunk Steve Scholz

Avid steampunk aficionado, and one of the organisers of Adelaide Steampunk, Steve Scholz dropped by Literary Clutter to say a few words. I asked him about his favourite steampunk fiction and what it was about the sub-genre that attracted him, both as a reader and a costumer.

I’ve read numerous efforts set in a steampunk universe, some not within my own perceptions of the genre. But I will give a big green light to Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula and The Bloody Red BaronAnno Dracula was a precursor to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen — forget the movie, the graphic novel and its sequels are gold.

The cross pollination in these novels was the breeding ground for the games and the costuming efforts which followed — the elegance of the era, the craftsmanship, the natural materials of production. Mixing massive orbital space platforms with top hats and frock coats is a fantastic design challenge and the historical context of a British Empire where the human spirit of endevour is limited only by one’s imagination. Besides, it looks awesome!

Photo by Kurt Janzon

The popularity of steampunk is all around. You can buy jewellery, clothes, decorations, even a steampunk computer. And, as well as reading steampunk, you can watch it. Take a look at the tailers for the films Steamboy and Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec.

And then there’s my all-time favourite steampunk film, the Australian animated masterpiece The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello. You can watch the trailer on the official website.

Steampunk is making a place for itself within popular culture. Elements of it are even creeping into other tv shows and movies. Witness the Cyberking from Doctor Who tv special, “The Next Doctor”.

Shadow PlaysIt certainly seems that steampunk is going to be around for a while… even I’m not immune to its charms. As well as reading steampunk, I’ve also dipped into the sub-genre as a writer. A few years ago my steampunk-esque short story “Nigella and the Clockwork Man” appeared in a dark fantasy anthology called Shadow Plays, which co-incidentally had two other steampunk stories — “Calliope: A Steam Romance” by Andrew J McKiernan and “Crystal and Iron” by EJ Hayes.

Do you have a favourite steampunk book? Have you tried writing steampunk? Do you tap away at the keyboard of a steampunk computer? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

And tune in next time as Carole Wilkinson, author of Sugar Sugar, drops in for a chat.

Catch ya later,  George

More Steampunk… with Michael Pryor

The Laws of Magic is a series of YA steampunk novels by Michael Pryor. They follow the adventures of a young magical genius named Aubrey Fitzwilliam. They include Blaze of Glory, Heart of Gold, Word of Honour and Time of Trial. Today, Michael has stopped in at Literary Clutter to give up his views on steampunk. Take it away, Michael…

I love Steampunk because it brings together two of my great loves: imagination and history. I’ve always enjoyed imaginative literature—fantasy and science fiction—because of the expanded horizons they introduce me to. I get excited by the possibilities presented, the way that they’re not limited by the here and now. I’ve always seen fantasy and SF as the best possible expression of the powers of creativity and the imagination.

History has been an area of fascination to me because it’s everything that we, as a species, have done. History is the great and grand story that’s got everything—and it’s all true! I love big picture history (the famous people, the wars and battles, the mighty conflicts, the defining moments in the unfolding of nations) but I also love the nitty-gritty history (What did people eat in Elizabethan England? What colours were the togas in Ancient Rome? What sort of washing machines would you find in a Victorian laundry?)

So Steampunk is a marvellous combination, bringing together history and the imagination. I love reading it, and I love writing it for the same reason. The Victorian/Edwardian era, the setting for Steampunk, is particularly appealing because it’s an era of formality and manners, where politeness and decorum is important. Of course, many things go on under the surface of such restraint and, for a writer, that’s a rich and valuable starting point. Add to that the permission to introduce wild and imaginative flights of fancy, and Steampunk is just perfect for me!

That’s the difference between writing Steampunk and writing a historical novel, of course. The amount of research is the same – I want to get my facts right. But writing Steampunk means I don’t have to stick to exactly what happened in real life. I can add bizarre and impressive machinery. I can invent secret conspiracies and plots. I can tweak things to leave out—or sidestep—the boring bits that sometimes sneak into history …

The formality of the Victorian/Edwardian era, the old-fashionedness of it, also allows me to work with language in a way that I can’t when I write in a more contemporary mode. I can use words like ‘braggadocio’, ‘snood’ and ‘nugatory’ and they are perfectly at home. In fact, they’re more than at home, they actually help create the slightly archaic feel I’m aiming for and are important in the overall effect.

I can remember the first Steampunk book I encountered. It was The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers. It was a superb introduction. Through a time travel excursion gone wrong, the main character is stranded in nineteenth century London and falls foul of gypsy magicians, lunatic beggar kings, body-swapping murderers and sundry other challenges. The sense of place is wonderful—Tim Powers always does his homework—and it’s a rattling good yarn. After reading it, I couldn’t get enough. I read as much Tim Powers as I could find, then the books by Powers’ friends James Blaylock and J.T. Jeter, who were also writing Steampunk at the same time. Great fun!

My thanks to Michael for stopping by. For more info about Michael and his books, check out his website. We’ll finish up with the trailer for Heart of Gold.

Tune in next time when we’ll discover that steampunk goes beyond literature.

Catch ya later,  George


Today, ladies and gentlemen, we enter a world of manners, polite society and dark secrets; a world of amazing steam-driven contraptions; a world in which Victoria sits on the throne and we all daily sing along to God Save the Queen; a world in which class divisions are nearing breaking-point and but we all pretend they are not. Welcome, dear reader, to the world of steampunk.

Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction. It encompasses quite a lot of diverse fiction, but is usually characterised by society in an age of steam-driven machinery, often fantastical in nature. It is Victorian-esque and is often set in 19th century England. This sub-genre has been around for quite a while but has been gaining in popularity of late.

LarklightThe first book I read which made me sit up and take notice of the sub-genre was Philip Reeve’s Larklight. Set in an alternate 1851, where the British Empire extends from Mercury to Jupiter, this charming and whimsical kids’ novel has been referred to by some as steampunk-lite. But I think that it and its sequels, Starcross and Mothstorm, are a terrific read and a jolly-good intro to steampunk. I reviewed them a while back for the Australian Spec Fic in Focus website.

WorldshakerMost recently, Scott Westefield’s Leviathan has been getting rave reviews. And last year, Richard Harland’s YA novel Worldshaker hit the shelves. Leviathan is sitting on my must-read-soon pile, but I did read and review Worldshaker when it came out (check out the review). It is, without a doubt, my favourite book of 2009. So I’m extremely pleased that Richard was able to drop by and answer a couple of steampunk questions.

Why do you like reading steampunk and what attracted you to write in that sub-genre?

I didn’t plan to write a steampunk novel, that’s for sure! When I had the ideas for Worldshaker, over 15 years ago, steampunk was only a small and little-noticed sub-genre of SF. My first idea was for a great gothic castle, but – since I didn’t just want to imitate Mervyn Peake – I built my ‘castle’ out of metal and put it on rollers. From then on, the mechanical side grew more and more important as I kept on developing the world and narrative.

I couldn’t see any chance of getting the story published for a very long while, since no Australian publisher was looking at that kind of fantasy back then. So I bided my time and kept on with the developing – and in the end, steampunk/Victoriana fiction started to catch on. I started the actual writing of the novel 5 years ago, and now it’s come out right in the middle of a huge steampunk wave in the US, and an ever-spreading wave in Australia.

I think it was the novel I always had in me to write. When I look back, steampunky elements had already crept into many of my previous novels. The Vicar of Morbing Vyle and The Black Crusade are both set in Victorian-type worlds. There’s a metal world in The Dark Edge, industrial scenery in the Humen Camp episodes of the Ferren trilogy, and quirky bits of machinery in (again) the Ferren books and The Black Crusade. I’m just lucky that the world finally wanted to read what I particularly wanted to write.

For me, the appeal of steampunk is that it’s a whole new realm of fantasy. I still enjoy post-Tolkien and medieval-type fantasies, but there are so many of them. Most very competent, many very emotionally involving—but there’s a limit to their originality. All the obvious things that can be done with that kind of world have already been done. Whereas steampunk worlds still have so many possibilities—including alternative technologies and political scenarios that can hardly appear in medieval-type fantasy.

Plus I love the atmospheric possibilities of the 19th-century-that-never-existed: claustrophobic back-alleys, grime and smokestacks, fog and gloom. The Dickensian imagination!

What’s your favourite steampunk novel/story?

Let me say first of all that I haven’t yet read Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan, which I’m saving up to take with me when I start the overseas tours for Worldshaker. Since I have great admiration for Scott as a writer, it’s almost certain to join my list of favourites. (Ironically, Leviathan was my original title for the novel that became Worldshaker!)

I love Phillip Reeve’s Mortal Engines and Predator’s Gold.  (A love/hate relationship originally, because when Mortal Engines appeared, I was horrified by its overall similarities to my own as-yet-unwritten steampunk story. But I’ve got over that since Worldshaker has managed to make its own very successful way in the world.)

Of the early classics in the genre, my favourite is Tim Powers’ Anubis Gates; I admire more than love Gibson & Sterling’s The Difference Engine.

I’ve just finished reading Jay Lake’s Mainspring, which has a truly marvellous central concept.

Perdido Street StationSome of my very favourites are steampunk-ish rather than middle-of-the-genre steampunk. For example, China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station and The Scar, Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights and D.M. Cornish’s Monster Blood Tattoo books.

And did I mention Michael Pryor’s The Laws of Magic series? So much of the good steampunk stuff is coming out as YA.

To find out more about Richard and his writing, check out his website. My thanks to Richard for dropping by. And a good thing that he mentioned Michael Pryor…

Tune in next time for some more steampunk adventures along with Michael Pryor, author of The Laws of Magic.

Catch ya later,  George

Beyond the book trailer — author vids

My last three posts have been about book trailers. But there is more to video promotion than book trailers. Authors and publishers are also creating videos in which the authors talk about their books.

The most basic of these is a straight-to-camera chat, relying on the ability of the author to say something interesting in an engaging way. Unfortunately there are many authors out there who, while brilliant on paper, are really dull when talking straight down the camera lens. Most seem to be recorded on handycams and then badly edited… or not edited at all. But there are some that stand out. Here’s one that I’ve posted on this blog before (see Thirty seconds to Marrs), but it’s such a good example of what can be done with one of these videos that I’m posting it again.

In this video, Shirley Marr talks about her debut YA novel Fury. But it’s her off-hand comments about other things — from her eyelashes to kinky boots — that show her personality. This is combined with some good editing and excellent use of music to create a really engaging video. A video like this, which portrays an interesting author as well as an interesting book, does a lot more for promotion than a dry speech simply telling you what the book is about. No matter how great a book is, if the author is to engage with an audience through a video, then that author needs to come across as an interesting person.

An author can do more than just deliver a straight-to-camera chat about the plotline of his/her new book. There are lots of things that can be done to spice up an author vid. For example, in this one, Scott Westerfeld talks about going on an airship ride as part of his research for the YA novel Leviathan. He is talking straight to camera, but photos and video from his airship ride are interspersed. It results in an interesting video.

Of course, an author doesn’t even have to talk about her/his own books in order to promote them. Jack Heath, author of YA thriller The Lab and its sequels, has a YouTube Channel on which he posts semi-regular videos about all sorts of things. What they all have in common is that they begin with a quick shot of his books accompanied by a musical hook. Take a look at the post in which he compares Stephenie Meyers’ Twilight with another vampire novel, 13 Bullets by David Wellington.

Heath’s engaging, witty style is what promotes his books, even when he’s not talking about them directly. I’ve watched all his videos and as a result, The Lab has been added to my reading list. Just for good measure here’s another one of his vids, titled: “Too Much Information”, in which he discusses some of his medical issues.

What’s it got to do with his books? Seemingly nothing! But it’s entertaining. And it’s a way of creating an ‘author brand’ — an association between his books and him as an interesting, entertaining person.

Just as book trailers can vary considerably in terms of style and creativity, so too can the author video. Some authors are simply more charismatic than others. While clever production can certainly do a lot to help an author video be engaging, there are some authors out there that no amount of flashy editing can save.

Anyone out there got any fav author vids they’d like to share? Leave a link in the comments below.

And tune in next time for a chorus of God Save the Queen as Literary Clutter explores the world of Steampunk.

Catch ya later,  George

Even more book trailers — pushing the envelope

Okay… one final post about book trailers (well, for the moment, at least). Last time around, I suggested that book trailers are perhaps becoming an art-form in their own right — a form of short film making. Take a look at this selection and see what you think.

Let’s start off with a big-budget, major release. From the people who brought you Pride and Predjudice and Zombies, watch out for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

Now, let’s go to the other end of the scale — Fury in the Garden: Dream Version by John Pagan. Judging by the website this book looks like is has been self-published by the author. The trailer is just text, computer graphics and music, but it’s effectively put together.

Now, here’s a really stylish trailer for The Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King. It’s mostly animated text with a voice-over. Simple but very cleverly put together. The vast majority of book trailers rely on text and still images, sometimes with a bit of animation. They tend to be a bit ‘same-old, same-old’. But every now and then, someone will take these standards of the book trailer and do something unique and imaginative. This is the case with The Dust of 100 Dogs trailer.

There are not a huge number of live-action book trailers out there, and the majority of those are pretty woeful. It’s usually the flashy, big-budget, blockbuster trailers that stand out in this category. But here’s a quiet little trailer. It’s simple and straightforward, without any fancy effects. But it’s well acted, well scripted and it works. It’s for Sugarless by James Magruder.

And finally, while we’re on live action, here’s the trailer for Gone by Mo Hayder. It’s very clever, well made and rather chilling. As the trailer itself warns, parental guidance is recommended on this one. I wouldn’t go showing this one to your five-year-old.

This trailer was put together by Paul Murphy, who also did the trailer for Kate Forsyth’s new book The  Wildkin’s Curse. Paul kindly stopped by to tell us a bit about the making of the Gone trailer.

“The publisher had given me a very simple brief: make a video for the web that is so scary people will forward it on.

I thought about what I had seen online that genuinely scared me, and remembered the real emergency call from a woman whose friend was being attacked by a chimpanzee. You don’t see anything in the video, but the audio is so raw – the woman sounds paralysed with fear, the operator is scrambling to understand what is happening, and meanwhile this crazed chimp is screaming in the background. I could picture everything as it happened, and it stayed with me for days.

That’s how I got the idea for a surveillance video synched to an emergency phone call. I developed it a bit further, and decided I didn’t want people to even know the woman’s daughter was in the car until after the attacker had driven off – that would be the twist that would leave people hanging. And that’s the point where I’d reveal it is the opening scene of a book.

It was very much a guerrilla production. One night, I drove a couple of actors to a rooftop car park. To get that high surveillance angle, I had to climb onto an enclosure with my camera and tripod. It was really windy, and I was worried I might get blown over the edge to a 10 storey drop below. We did four takes, and then got out of there before security was alerted. It would have been difficult to explain why a man was breaking into a woman’s car and driving off with it, only to drive back and do it all again.

For the audio, I recorded three other actors in a sound studio. I added the sound effects and mixed it to make it sound more like it was happening in a car. Finally, I played the mix through my mobile phone to give it that harsh, compressed tone.

I was really happy with the end result. Many people have said to me not only how disturbing they found the video, but how much they wanted to read the book afterwards. For me, that’s the most satisfying thing to hear. In all my book trailers, I’m not just trying to match pictures to words, but entice people with a story.”

For more info about Paul Murphy and his other trailers, check out his website Book Tease.

And tune in next time when Literary Clutter will take you Beyond the Book Trailer!

Catch ya later,  George

More book trailers — are they worth the effort?

Last time around I introduced you to a few of my favourite book trailers. I’ve got some more for you to look at this time. Plus, I also pose the question: Are book trailers worth the effort?

But first, let’s take a look at the awesome trailer for Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan:

It’s a complex, beautifully animated trailer. But simple animation can also work. Take, for example, the trailer for Wardragon by Paul Collins. It’s not in the same league as the Leviathan trailer, but… Some simple animation, a bit of text and some stirring music combine to make an effective trailer.

This trailer has been online for about nine months, but it’s only had about 180 viewings. This begs the questions: is the time and effort (and possibly money) that is invested in making a trailer, really worth it, if only a couple of hundred people will watch it? This is the question I put to Paul Collins, who is the publisher at Ford Street Publishing as well as an author. Here’s his response:

“I think this latest publishing phenomenon is too young to predict how useful it is. Providing publishers/authors/illustrators can get their trailers done reasonably cheaply, or they can produce them themselves, I see trailers as yet another cheap means of promotion, much like blogging/reviews, etc. Truly inspirational trailers must cost thousands, but the viral impact is tremendous. So if a book trailer can fire up the viewers to send it on, then it can’t fail to promote the book. But looking on Ford Street’s YouTube channel, I see our most viewed trailer, My Private Pectus, has only had 536 views, and the second most viewed trailer sits at 436. How many of the viewers bought the book/s? Hard to quantify!”

Check out the trailers at the Ford Street YouTube Channel.

While the Ford Street trailers are counting their viewings in the hundreds, Leviathan is clocking up multiple thousands, as is the trailer for Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (see previous post). It seems to be a case of big name authors and large publishing houses (who have more money to spend on producing trailers and promoting them) are getting the huge audiences (and huge sales), while lesser known authors and smaller publishers are struggling to get their trailers seen by more than a few hundred people.

Last year I had a book trailer created for my teen novel, Gamers’ Quest. It’s a computer animated video, put together by H Gibbens of Finger to the Bone. It’s had a little over 450 viewings. It’s not possible to know how many of these viewings have resulted in a sale. But for me it is more than just a video to be uploaded to YouTube. I use it during school talks and I also have it playing on a screen beside me when I do book signings. It has proved to be a great way to grab an audience’s attention and so has been an invaluable marketing tool for me.

I think that books trailers are now evolving beyond their initial intention. Just like the music video has become so much more than just a way to advertise a new single, the book trailer is also evolving beyond a simple marketing tool. It is becoming an art-form of it’s own. Just take a look at what the New Zealand Book Council have put together for Maurice Gee’s Going West:

Art? Or mere advertising? What do you think? And what are some of your favourite book trailers? Post a link in the comments section.

And tune in next time for even more amazing trailers.

Catch ya later,  George

Book trailers

Film trailers have been around for a long time. They are advertising for an upcoming film, showing some key scenes to interest watchers in parting with their money in order to see the complete film. In recent years, thanks to the popularity of YouTube, we have seen the rise of the book trailer — a short video advertising an upcoming book to potential readers.

But what do you put into a book trailer? It’s not like a film — you can’t just edit together a few of the more exciting scenes. You need to actually create content. In effect, make a short film from scratch.

Book trailers vary greatly in content – and quality – from simply presenting the book cover with a voice over, to fully dramatised scenes from the book. Of the latter type, here’s one of the best I’ve seen, for Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.

I’m willing to bet that this trailer cost a pretty packet. But what do you do if you don’t have a rich publisher willing to throw around bucket loads of money? Well, you could always find a friend or family member to make a trailer for you. Or, if you’re handy with a computer, make one yourself. Of course, this has lead to a glut of really bad trailers being uploaded onto YouTube. But fear not, I have waded through the dross and can now present for your entertainment, some of the better trailers I’ve discovered.

Here’s the trailer for The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin, the upcoming fantasy series from Rowena Cory Daniells:

This is a beautifully animated trailer based on the cover of the first book, and it was put together by Rowena’s husband, Daryl Lindquist. Here’s what Daryl had to say about the creation of this trailer:

“The concept for the trailer came to me fully formed out of the blue, as most creative ideas do. We had copies of the great cover done by Clint Langley for the first book. This was the inspiration for the book trailer. Having come up with the concept, the next step was to pitch it to the publisher and editor. They were enthusiastic, so the next step was to approach Clint for permission to use his artwork. He was also most supportive. Clint forwarded his layered Photoshop files of the cover image for us to use in the trailer. This allowed us to isolate the main character from the background. The process was to build a 3D environment, a portion of which matched the cover from the camera perspective, then work out the camera moves that lead up to the final shot which is the cover image.  The main character was then hand-animated, while the background is 3D rendered. Once the background had been rendered, the main character was then composited in to give the final cover image. Once the clip was finalised, we moved onto the creation of the soundtrack. All completed within two months.”

To find out more about Rowena and her writing, check out her website. To find out more about Daryl’s animation and book trailer production check out the R&D Studio’s website.

Here’s the trailer for the Nit Boy, a series of kids’ books by Tristan Bancks:

Here’s what Tristan had to say about the trailer:

“I love making trailers and bringing the world of my books to life. On the Nit Boy book trailer I wanted to build on the work I’d done creating trailers for my Mac Slater, Coolhunter series.

I showed Peter Leary, the very talented animator, the books’ amazing illustrations by Heath McKenzie. I then wrote a script. The animator made suggestions. I cut the script down. He made a rough animatic (still pictures with a voiceover) and he began building the 3D characters (essentially, ‘wire’ frames in the computer). I gave Peter feedback on the characters and he created a rough version of the trailer. I then started working on the music with Charlton Hill and the post sound and voiceover with Murray Burns. Peter then supplied the final animation the day before the book launch.

The trailer has been an incredibly useful tool for promoting the books. I would say that the key to a good trailer is in nailing the essence of the story in the script, and working with excellent people who know what they are doing.

A producer has optioned the Nit Boy books for TV and my next vis-lit adventures will be trailers for my 2011 releases, Galactic Adventures: First Kids in Space (UQP) and a funny shorts collection for Random House.”

For more info about Tristan and his writing, check out his website.

Tune in next time for more trailers.

Catch ya later,  George

Family reading

Just a simple little post today — a round-up of what my family and I have been reading.

As is normal for me (see earlier post: Clutter, clutter and more clutter), I am part way through several books, mags and newsletters. But all this reading stopped a little while ago when my copy of Carole Wilkinson’s Sugar Sugar arrived in the post box. It had to have priority! I am a huge fan of Carole’s writing and have been reading her stuff ever since her first novel, Stagefright, hit the shelves way back in 1996. Stagefright is a great little YA novel about a group of highschool kids putting on a musical production of Shakespeare’s Richard the Third. Its offbeat story and terrific characters hooked me from the first sentence:

“Velvet S Pye stood outside the gates of Yarrabank High and a creeping feeling came over her.”

I have been eagerly awaiting each successive novel ever since. And Carole has never disappointed. I can honestly say that I have loved every one of her books that I have read… and I have read most of them (there are only a few of her non-fic titles that I haven’t caught up with). I’m now four chapters from the end of Sugar Sugar. It’s brilliant! As soon as I’ve finished it, I’ll be writing some questions for Carole to answer in an upcoming post here on Literary Clutter. So stay tuned!

I’m not the only reader in my family. My wife is an avid devourer of the written word who consumes about three times the amount of books that I do, as she reads a lot faster than I. She’s just finished Trudi Canavan’s The Magician’s Apprentice. Now, on my recommendation, she is reading Solace and Grief by Foz Meadows. She enjoyed the former, describing it as a rollicking good fantasy read that could have only been improved by a “few more kissy scenes at the end”. And now she’s really enjoying the later, although she’s not far into it yet… her first reaction was: “Thank goodness it’s not another vampire novel”… followed closely by: “He turns into a cat? I wish I could turn into a cat!”

At age seven, my eldest daughter also has a love of books. My wife and I are extremely proud of her reading skills and interest. She has just finished Susannah McFarlane’s EJ12 Girl Hero: Hot & Cold. She really enjoyed the book, but said it was a little too scary in places, especially when EJ was trapped inside a volcano. I had to step in and read a couple of the chapters out loud to her until she was sure that EJ would escape. Obviously the experience wasn’t all that traumatic, as she has now asked me to get the next EJ12 book for her.

My youngest, at 14 months, is a little too young to read to herself just yet. But I read to her every day. Her current favourite is Ed Heck’s Big Fish, Little Fish. I love reading this book to her … SPOILER ALERT … especially the final page, where you lift the flap to discover that the biggest fish, which we have only viewed as a shadow thus far, is actually a whole bunch of little fish banding together to give the big fish a scare. She squeals with delight every time she lifts the flap. Okay, so it’s the lifting of the flap to discover another picture beneath that appeals to her at the moment… but she’ll eventually come to appreciate the subtleties of the story. 😉

So that’s what we’ve all been reading. What about you? Anything to recommend? Anything to avoid? Leave a comment!

And tune in next time to see a few of my favourite book trailers.

Catch ya later, George

The shameless self-promotion post

At the end of my last post I said that I would next be blogging about what my family and I had been reading. Well, I will… but not today. For today I’m slipping in an extra post — a post in which I shall shamelessly promote my book signing this coming Saturday.

As you may or may not know, I’m an author. In October last year, my teen novel, Gamers’ Quest, was published by Ford Street Publishing (to find out more about Ford Street check out the latest post on Kids’ Book Capers). Since then I’ve been promoting my little heart out. I’m exhausted but I’m still at it. Frankly, the whole promotion thing is way more difficult than the actual writing! But it’s a necessary part of the process, especially when you’re an unknown author (George? George who?) with a small publisher.

Click to see full-size image.

Gamers’ Quest – that’s my book in case you’d forgotten – is a science fiction, action/adventure with a healthy dose of fantasy thrown in. I wrote it with young teens in mind but it’s suitable for ages 10+. It’s the sort of book that I, as a Space Invaders obsessed teen, would have loved reading! I’m hoping that the current crop of computer game-playing kids will like it as it’s set within the multiple worlds of a sophisticated virtual reality computer game.

Gamers’ Quest has got it all — dragons, mages, lasers, drones, starfighters, a giant robotic spider, lethal shrubbery and even a bit of toad-flinging. Doesn’t that just make you want to rush out and buy a copy this very instant? Come on, you know you want to! Perhaps it’s time for me to shut up and just give you the signing details…

Come and meet George Ivanoff — author of the Chronos Award-winning science fiction novel for kids and teens, Gamers’ Quest.

Location: Angus & Robertson Ringwood bookstore (Shop L026a) in Eastland Shopping Centre, Victoria

Date: Saturday 8 May 2010

Time: 11.30am-12.30pm

To find out more about Gamers’ Quest, check out the website. And take a look at the trailer:

So come along and meet me. You can tell me in person how much you love reading my blog! Or you can get my autograph — it’s bound to be worth at least a couple of cents some time in the next 20 years. Or you could come along simply to heckle… “Hey George, is that a tumble-weed I just saw rolling past?”

Anyway… thank you, dear readers, for indulging my little lapse into self-promotion. I promise not to do it too often.  🙂  And sincere thanks to Boomerang Books.

Tune in next time when Literary Clutter will return to its regular programming.

Catch ya later,  George

Thirty seconds to Marrs

George’s little intro

Today I’d like to welcome Shirley Marr to Literary Clutter. Shirley is the author of the just-released YA novel Fury. It’s her first novel, and she has kindly stopped by to tell us a little about her journey to publication.

Thirty Seconds to Marrs (well perhaps a few minutes. OR YEARS.)
By Shirley Marr

What do leopard print, William Faulkner, a Guy Sebastian ticket, a Harry Potter owl and porcelain Royal Albert pig have in common? Absolutely nothing except they all happen to collide at my desk. Welcome to my writer’s space. My name is Shirley Marr and I am pro-clutter. After witnessing the photo of George’s desk though, I think mine is not all that bad, what do you think? I am challenging all future guest bloggers to take the Literary Clutter challenge and send in their photos.

I’m here today to share the experiences of getting published for the first time and maybe offer some advice that you might find useful.

So what do you think you need to become a published author? A literary background? Be an industry insider? Special connections? Special skills?

The simple truth is that you just need to love writing. You don’t have to be the best writer in the world, you just need to practice and eventually you’ll become pretty sufficient at stringing a bunch of words together. What is important is that you’re the only person out there with a story that can be told in your voice, through your eyes and experiences. Remember that.

My debut book Fury is out this May. Against all odds, I mailed a three-chapter sample to an indie publishing company called Black Dog Books and was pretty much signed on the spot. How does that happen? In my words “I’m just a girl”. I don’t have an English degree. I’ve never been to a single writing workshop, class or group. I work full time in a job that is nowhere near the literary world. The closest I’ve ever been to getting advice on how to write is buying a copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing a Novel.

The secret is that I’ve been writing seriously for ten years. Ten years ago I said to myself “I want to be an author” and I started writing. I am no overnight success story. I’ve been through multiple crappy manuscripts and reached my lowest points where I chucked tantrums and threatened to quit because I believed I could never succeed. And it was an incredibly lonely ten years. It was ten years before I produced something that I thought was even fit to be seen by someone else. That something was Fury. And boy did my Draft Zero suck.

Here’s a tip. Find someone who can give you honest advice. It makes your journey less lonely. My peep is BetaGirl. She does as her name suggests. She completely betas the living daylights out of everything I write until it’s a virtual pile of scraps. I then cry, put the scraps back together and what I have is something better and more wonderful than I had before. So by the time I submitted to Black Dog Books, it was as best as I could get it. It was luck they wanted me, but it was also a lot of hard work.

The actual writing process took me three months, but it doesn’t end there. The editing process with Melissa Keil took around a year. If you can’t put everything that ever meant anything into it, then seriously, don’t do it! But if you really, really want (zig-a-zag-ahhhh) it — don’t be a diva, don’t get upset when someone says something sucks and just prepare to bust your ass! I wish you the best. It’ll be the best and worst time of your life.

For me now, it’s almost time to be a debutante. Being a new girl I expected this leg to be the hardest. I expected to be ignored, snubbed and maybe have my hair pulled. In fact, to be honest, I expected to be hazed… but all the other authors I have met have been super nice. George came up to me in the proverbial play yard and wanted to be friends and share his bloggy sandwich with me. I am glad to have made it here. And I am nothing special. In fact you are probably a better writer than me, so if I can do it… Believe that you can too.

George’s little bit at the end

Positive reviews of Fury are already hitting the net — like this one and this one.

Also, here’s a vid of Shirley talking about Fury:

Now, as for Shirley’s desk — it doesn’t look cluttered to me! In fact, it looks positively neat, although it does have some interesting paraphernalia. But what about you, dear reader? Tell us a few of the weird and wonderful things that adorn your workspace. Go on… embarrass yourselves!

Tune in next time to find out what my family and I have been reading.

Catch ya later, George

Why I have not read Twilight

TwilightI have not read Twilight! I do not intend to read Twilight! I am content with this decision and I am sure that I will go on to have a happy and fulfilling life without it. But how did I come to this decision?

I had heard a lot about Twilight — both good and bad. It, and its follow-up books, had been getting a lot of publicity for quite some time. When the film was released on DVD, I decided that I should probably read the book before seeing the film and find out what all the fuss was about. So I borrowed a copy from a friend.

I was reading another book at the time, so my wife decided to read it first. For the next week I listened to her read the book. Yes, listened, as she tsk’ed with contempt, groaned with annoyance and snorted with derision… occasionally punctuated by, “OMG, just let me read you this bit…”. At the end of each chapter, I’d cop an earful of colourful rhetoric about how little the story had progressed, yet how much more annoying the characters had become. “Bella just spent an entire chapter whining and pining for Edward!” or “Edward just spent an entire chapter sparkling and being gazed at by a soppy-eyed Bella!” and “I’m dragging myself though this book, in the hopes that a story will actually happen at some point!” When she had finally finished, she turned to me and said: “Honey, don’t read it!”

My wife is probably the only person in the world who can say something like that to me, and have me follow the advice. Normally, being told not to do something just makes me want to do it more. But after 17 years, Kerri (that’s my wife) has come to know me pretty well, and knows my literary likes and dislikes. After years of recommending books to me, this is the first time she has ever recommended I not read a particular book… so I took the recommendation seriously.

That’s not to say that Kerri hated the book. She didn’t. She found it a frustrating but interesting read. Frustrating because there was very little plot and because she found the characters annoying. Interesting, because she said that as a 15-year-old girl she probably would have loved it. Here’s why:

“It pushes all the right buttons for a teenage girl. It’s as if the book were written by a committee of women with a checklist.”

Kerri did express some curiosity in seeing the film version. So we borrowed the DVD from our local video store and put aside an evening of our lives that we will sadly never be able to reclaim. I figured that if I liked the film, I’d make the effort to read the book. I did not like the film. In fact, I hated it! Aside from the fact that it was overacted and poorly directed, there was not all that much to the plot and the dialogue was clichéd and atrociously written. Granted, Kerri did say that the book was marginally better, but given how much I disliked the film, that was not much of an incentive.

Every now and then, someone will still suggest that I should give the book a go. And I toy with the possibility, purely on a curiosity level. But seriously folks, life is too short to be reading stuff that you don’t really want to read. There are HUGE numbers of books that I really do want to read — way too many for me to actually get through. I need to prioritise. And a mild curiosity simply is not enough to get me to put this book on my mile-high “must-get-around-to-reading-someday” stack, let alone my three metre tall “must-read-soon” pile.

So that, folks, is why I have not read Twilight. And that is why I am unlikely to read it. Not unless I get stranded on a desert island without any other reading material.

Now, having said all of the above, I do wish to point out that I have nothing against the people who do like the books and the films. Everyone is entitled to their own literary choices. I’m sure that some of the books I’ve chosen to read over the years would make many people cringe. And I haven’t always made sterling choices. But as I said earlier, I couldn’t possibly read everything that I want to read, so I do have to make choices.

Even though I have chosen not to read it, I believe it to be an important book. It seems to have mimicked Harry Potter’s success in getting people who don’t normally read, to pick up a book. And for that, I applaud it. For many people Twilight will be the beginning of a life-long romance with the written word. That’s a good thing.

Well… that’s it for vampires! On to other things. Tune in next time when Shirley Marr, author of the soon to be released YA novel Fury, drops in to tell us about her first publishing experience.

Catch ya later,  George

Authors with bite

Vampires! Post number two in a series of three about the pointy-toothed blood-suckers we all love to read about.

This time around I have enlisted the help of two authors who have written vamp fic. I’ve asked each of them to share with us their favourite vampire book.

NarrelleFirst cab off the rank is Narrelle M Harris, author of The Opposite of Life.

John Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In is a superb vampire novel. It’s Swedish, but the English translation captures its setting of a bleak suburb in 1980s Stockholm perfectly. Oskar, who is viciously bullied at school, befriends strange newcomer, Eli. The fact that Eli is a vampire and a killer is contrasted with the idea that Eli is also an abused child. The line between victim and monster is blurred, here and elsewhere in the story. It’s a disturbing horror story, but also ultimately a gentle love story. It’s elegant, atmospheric and unlike any other vampire story I’ve ever read.

You can find out more about Narrelle and her writing on her website. You can also follow her on Twitter. And for those of you who’ve read The Opposite of Life, you can also follow her two lead characters, Gary (the vampire) and Lissa (the librarian), on Twitter.

FozNext up we have Foz Meadows, author of Solace and Grief.

I love the Evernight series by Claudia Gray. On starting the first book, I was aggressively sceptical, but once I reached the halfway point, I couldn’t put it down, while the sequel volumes, Stargazer and Hourglass, were mesmerising. Gray’s characters are vividly realistic; her plotlines pull no punches. The more the series develops, the more it becomes apparent that a skilful long game is in effect: the mythology is built with care, and there are no loose threads – only questions that haven’t been answered yet. The writing is sleek, the pace swift, and the tension perfectly orchestrated. Definitely worth reading!

You can find out more about Foz and her writing by checking out her blog.

My thanks to Narrelle and Foz for stopping by.

My last post mentioned the vampire books that I loved. But I have read others — from the good (Thirsty by MT Anderson) to the not-so-good (The House of Caine by Ken Eulo). And then, there’s the disappointing…

Interview With The Vampire by Anne Rice. This is a book that lots of people have raved about. My first encounter with it was the film version. I really liked the film and so I thought to myself… most film adaptations are not as good as the original books, so I must go and read Interview With The Vampire. Which I did… Unfortunately. I found the characters annoying, the style dry and the whole thing long-winded and boring. After spouting my disappointment at anyone who would listen, an avid Anne Rice fan insisted that the second book in the series was much better and that I should give it a go. I didn’t. In fact, I’ve never read another Anne Rice book. Life is too short and there are way too many other books that I really want to read.

Which now brings me to the Twilight books.

Tune in next time as I tell you why I haven’t read Twilight.

Catch ya later,  George

Books with bite

Vampires seem to be the in thing at the moment. Almost everyone is going ga-ga over the Twilight books and there is now a glut of teen vamp fic. Hollywood is, of course, cashing in on this, with numerous pointy teeth films and tv shows gracing our screens. For a bit of a laugh, check out the trailer for I Kissed a Vampire, a musical web series.

DraculaVampire fiction has been around for a long time. The first vampire book I ever read was Stephen King’s Salom’s Lot. It remains one of my favourites. Since then, I’ve read the occasional bit of vamp fic, including the granddaddy of them all, Dracula (which is well worth a read, even if you’re not into vampires). The one that really sticks in my mind, even though I read is about 13 years ago, is Poppy Z Brite’s Lost Souls. She has an interesting take on the vampire mythology. Her vamps are a separate species and breeding with humans results in each successive generation being less vampiric. The oldest vampire in the book can eat or drink nothing but blood, has pointy teeth and can be harmed by sunlight. The youngest is a bit of a goth — sunlight won’t hurt him but prefers to go out at night; his teeth aren’t pointy and although he doesn’t need to drink blood to live, he does come to develop a taste for it. There’s a lot more to it, but I’m working from memory here.

I’ve always thought that what this world really needed was some good vampire books set in Australia, preferable Melbourne (my home city). A number of years ago I read Vampire Cities by d’ettut (yes, d’ettut is the name of the author… pseudonym perhaps?), which was partly set in Australia. I remember thinking it was a weird, arty sort of book and that vampires weren’t actually the focus. It mustn’t have made much of an impression on me as I can remember nothing of the story.

More recently, I read Narrelle M Harris’s The Opposite of Life, which is set in Melbourne. I LOVED this book. It’s got lots of blood, dead bodies and pointy teeth and yet it’s a very atypical vampire story. The heroes are a geeky librarian and a slightly podgy, daggy vampire who wears loud Hawaiian shirts.  The book makes marvellous use of its Melbourne locale and is worth a read for that alone. Harris is writing a sequel… I can’t wait. Check out my review of The Opposite of Life.

Solace & GriefI also recently read Solace & Grief by Foz Meadows. The author calls the book an “urban fantasy” rather than a vampire novel. The main character is a vamp, as is the main villain, but there are other supernatural characters as well. It’s a young adult novel set in Sydney (not as good as Melbourne, but hey, at least it’s in Australia) and it’s got quite a different feel to it from any other vampire book I’ve read. It’s been getting some great reviews and with good reason – it’s a really good read. It is the first book of a trilogy called The Rare. Book 2 is currently in the works… definitely one to look out for.

There are probably other Australian vampire books out there. To be perfectly honest, I’ve never made a point of searching them out. The ones I’ve read were those that I happened across. So if anyone out there has any recommendations, I’m all ears… um… err… teeth?

Tune in next time for another vampire post, this time with the assistance of authors Foz Meadows and Narrelle M Harris.

Catch ya later,  George

The Star and Felicity Marshall

Last Tuesday I went along to the launch of Felicity Marshall’s picture book, The Star, which I reviewed a couple of posts back. Port Melbourne Prints and Framing (276-278 Bay Street, Port Melbourne) was a terrific location for the launch, which also doubled as the opening of an exhibition of artwork from the book. In my review, I mentioned how beautiful the artwork in the book was… well… seeing the original artwork up close blew me away. It is stunning! The exhibition is open until 27 April. If you get the chance, I’d highly recommend popping in to see it.

The launch was packed with people, food and wine – and Felicity spent quite some time trapped at the autograph table. With her successful launch now behind her, Felicity has dropped in at Literary Clutter to answer a few questions about The Star.

What came first, the pictures or the words?

The idea of a story about fame came first – in a mixture of pictures and words. Because I write AND illustrate, I find it quite natural to think in both images and words when developing the genesis of a story. I cannot honestly say one came before the other. I think most author/illustrators do this – jumping back and forth. However I did fine tune the text before the finished illustrations were all done.

What inspired you to tell this story?

It may well have all started in a doctor’s waiting room, looking at one of those magazines full of trivia and trash about the lives of fleeting stars. And yes, I realised I too can be a voyeur when flipping through page after page of articles about who has been dumped, who has bad dress sense, who is too fat, too thin, too old, or is now on the scrap heap. The celebrity culture is in our face – on radio, television, and in print. It affects young people profoundly. In many school visits I have done, and conversations I have had with young people (from age 3 to adolescents) I was struck by how often the question “What do you want to be when you grow up/leave school?” received the response “I want to be famous” or less often “I want to be rich”. Not even “I want to be a famous movie star / footballer / ballerina / astronaut / detective / fireman”. Fame, in their minds, was no longer attached to excellence in performance or human endeavour, but was now an entity in itself. Then I thought a lot about the famous Andy Warhol quote,  “In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”. I looked at those trashy magazines again. I decided we had a new phenomenon that I call pseudo-fame. The story of The Star grew from there.

What has been your biggest brush with fame?

My biggest brush with fame was when I shook the hand of Neil Armstrong, the famous astronaut who walked on the moon.

My biggest brush with pseudo fame occurred when I (unknowingly) was in the presence of someone from Big Brother. I can’t remember his name…

I think that The Star really has the potential to appeal to grown-ups as well as kids. Did you deliberately aim to do this?

I don’t think I consciously have done that. But I do believe that any good story for children will also appeal to adults, who may see a deeper layer of meaning. Not just in my books, but in all children’s books/stories, and for centuries.  There are many “children’s” books that are much loved by adults, and often adults overlook how profound children’s books can be.

Tell us about your favourite picture book?

Oh dear, I have so, so, many favourites, I can’t narrow it down to one. I will go for three – and this is a hard task you understand.

For very young children, I think The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle is one of my all time favourites. Simple illustrations and a beautiful story about the change from caterpillar to butterfly.

Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole is another favourite for all the fun and naughty rebellion that Babette does so well. Quirky, expressive drawings and a deliciously satisfying story. Especially appeals to my inner girl defying adult constraints!

The Arrival by Shaun Tan is a truly beautiful masterpiece of fine drawing and a universal tale told without any words.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell people about The Star?

Lots! But I would rather they read the book themselves. I will say, however, that there will be more about the story of Marion, Harley and Polka in the future.

Many thanks to Felicity for taking the time to visit Literary Clutter.

Tune in next time for the first in a series of posts about vampires.

Catch ya later, George

Time tripping with Kate Forsyth

George’s little intro

Last time around, I waffled on a bit about a few time travel books that I’ve read. For today’s post, author Kate Forsyth has stopped by to tell us about her favourite time travel books. Kate is the author of The Puzzle Ring (an excellent time travel fantasy for kids and teens) as well as numerous other novels. To find out more about Kate and her writing, check out her website.

“My top 5 time travel books”
by Kate Forsyth

The past is a mysterious and dangerous place, so very different from our own that it could indeed be another world. The idea of travelling back in time has always fascinated me, and so I have always wanted to write a time travel adventure like the ones I used to love reading as a child.

Part of the joy of writing The Puzzle Ring was reading all those time travel stories again. Many of them had been books from my school library, so I had to hunt for copies on the Internet, buying them from second-hand and antiquarian bookshops all over the world.

Here are my five favourites:

1908 – Edith Nesbit, The House of Arden

The House of Arden has always been my favourite Nesbit novel. It’s about a boy called Edred who inherits a crumbling old castle when he is close to his tenth birthday but to his consternation he will only be able to keep it if he can find the lost Arden fortune before his birthday. Edred, his twin sister Elfrida, and the temperamental Mouldiwarp, a magical talking creature, travel through time searching for the treasure. The twins visit a number of different periods of English history, meeting witches and highwaymen and rebels and having exciting adventures. This book was definitely a very strong influence on me, particularly when I first began to conceive the story of The Puzzle Ring, and certainly the idea of being heir to an ancient castle and a treasure lie at the heart of my book too.

1939 – Alison Uttley, A Traveller In Time

This book tells the story of Penelope, who slips back and forth between her own time (1930s England) and Elizabethan times. Her adventures start when she goes to stay at an old, old farmhouse called Thackers in the countryside. Thackers was once owned by the Babington family, who famously tried and failed to rescue Mary, Queen of Scots while she was imprisoned by her cousin, Elizabeth I, and so this novel was one of the things which first began my fascination with the tragic Scottish queen. It’s an absolute classic and a must read for anyone interested in time travel stories.

1954 – Lucy Boston, The Children of Green Knowe

I loved this book as a child, and loved it just as much when I read it again while writing The Puzzle Ring. It tells the story of young Tolly who goes to stay with his great-grandmother, Mrs Oldknowe. Her house, Greenknowe, is old and mysterious and filled with stories of the past – stories that begin to come alive for Tolly. The house and its beautiful garden were based on Lucy Boston’s own house, The Manor, in Hemingford Grey, Cambridgeshire, which was built in the 1130s and lays claim to the oldest continually inhabited house in the UK. Lucy Boston once wrote: “I believe children, even the youngest, love good language, and that they see, feel, understand and communicate more, not less, than grownups. Therefore I never write down to them, but try to evoke that new brilliant awareness that is the world.’

This is what I try and do too.

Tom’s Midnight Garden1958 – Philippa Pearce, Tom’s Midnight Garden

Tom’s Midnight Garden won the Carnegie Medal in 1958, and is considered one of the great classics of English children’s literature. I think it is utterly enchanting, and perfect in every way. It’s one of those books that stay with you forever after.

Tom is sent to stay with his aunt and uncle in a boarding house when his brother gets measles. Bored to tears, he has nothing to do and wishes the old house had a garden in which he could play. That night he hears the old grandfather clock in the hallway downstairs strike thirteen, and runs downstairs to investigate. He finds the hallway opening on to the most wonderful garden, and explores it in absolute delight. Soon he meets a girl called Hattie, who he discovers lived there in the 19th century. She thinks Tom is a ghost, while he thinks she is – they argue about it and it makes Tom uneasy. As the days pass, Hattie grows up while Tom stays the same. The time comes for Tom to go home, but he doesn’t want to go – the midnight garden has become more real, more important to him than his real life. The ending is one of the most perfectly executed and moving moments in children’s literature – I feel the catch of breath, the sting of tears, every time I read it.

An amusing anecdote: when Philippa Pierce went to Buckingham Palace to collect her OBE, the Queen asked her, ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ To which, Phillipa Pierce replied ‘Harrods.’ I just love that.

1988 – Jane Yolen, The Devil’s Arithmetic

A beautiful and moving novel about the Holocaust, The Devil’s Arithmetic tells the story of Hannah who, embarrassed by her grandparents’ enduring grief over their past, finds herself transported back to a village in Poland in the 1940s. Captured by the Nazis, she is taken to a death camp where she fights to stay alive and retain her dignity. At the end, she chooses to go to the gas chamber to save a friend in a scene that had me sobbing out loud with horror and disbelief. At that moment she returns to herself in contemporary times, but with a much deeper understanding of her grandparents’ inability to shake off the past. This is truly a brilliant book, one that should be read by everyone. It has been made into a movie, which I haven’t yet seen (though I would like to!)

George’s little bit at the end

I have not read a single one of these books, but they all sound fascinating. I obviously need to broaden my horizons. In my defence (such as it is) I can say that I have seen the 1989 BBC series of Tom’s Midnight Garden. I enjoyed it a great deal but I don’t know how faithful an adaptation it is.

After reading Kate’s selection, I was reminded of one other book I should have mentioned in my last post — Mark Twain’s 1889 novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Were I able to travel through time, I’d go back and fix this oversight, but seeing as I can’t, I’ll have to settle for mentioning it now instead. As the title suggests, it’s about an American who travels back in time to the court of King Arthur. It’s been filmed several times, including one version with Bing Crosby. I read the book a few years ago and loved it. Long winded and meandering, often humorous, occasionally political and sometimes lacking internal logic… but always interesting. And my god, Twain wrote some incredibly long sentences.

This brings us to the end of our time travelling adventures, for now. Tune in next time, when I’ll tell you about the launch of The Star and have chat with it’s author/illustrator, Felicity Marshal.

Catch ya later, George

Time tripping

I’ve just started reading a YA novel called TimeRiders, written by Alex Scarrow. It’s a time travel story about three teens from three different years (1912, 2010 and 2026) who are recruited by the mysterious Agency to become TimeRiders, operatives who go about fixing problems caused by other time travellers. Sounds rather clichéd, doesn’t it? I’m only 50 pages in, but so far, so good. It plunges you straight into the action and has managed to hold my interest thus far. Mind you, there are still 376 pages to go. I’ll report back once I’ve finished it.

In the meantime, I thought now might be the appropriate moment for a time travel post. After all, a bit of time travel can be fun. I’m eagerly looking forward to the new season of Doctor Who. I’d list the Back to the Future movies amongst my favourite re-watchable films (What can I say? I’m a child of the 80s). I also have a soft spot for Somewhere in Time. And I’ve lost track of how often I’ve watched the various crews of the Starship Enterprise skip back into the past. But let’s talk about books…

Now that I think about it, I can’t recall having read all that many time travel books. I own a copy of The Time Machine by HG Wells, but I’ve never read it. Yes, very remiss of me. It’s been on my “must get around to reading” list for a good many years. (Along with other classic genre novels such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde — which I did finally get around to reading a couple of years ago.) But enough about what I haven’t read… let me tell you about what I have read.

The Puzzle RingThe two most recent time travel books to have actually made it through my reading list are Kate Forsyth’s The Puzzle Ring and Sean McMullen’s Before the Storm. These books nicely illustrate the two categories of time travel fiction that most stories fall into — science fiction and fantasy.

The Puzzle Ring is a charming novel for kids and teens, revolving around Celtic fairy folklore. When Hannah Rose Brown returns to her ancestral home in Scotland with her mother, she discovers a family curse and the truth about her father’s mysterious disappearance. The only way to save her father and break the curse is to travel back in time to the era of Mary Queen of Scots. The time travel in this story is achieved by passing through the realm of fairy.

Before the StormBefore the Storm, on the other hand, is YA science fiction. Fox and BC travel back in time from the distant future to 1901 with the aid of a time machine. These two teens are on a mission to stop the bombing of the first Australian Parliament — an event that will have a devastating affect on the future of the whole world. But once in 1901, they need the help of three ordinary teenagers from that time period to complete their mission.

Two very different books — examples of the two different types of time travel stories. Both are excellent!

Now, I’m going to try and think back to the hazy past of my childhood and teenage years and mention a couple of other time travel stories.

Red Hart Magic by Andre Norton. It’s about two kids who travel back in time, thanks to a magical model of an old English inn. I’m afraid I remember almost nothing about this book except that I really enjoyed it at the time I read it, around about the age of 13, I think. I read quite a lot of Andre Norton’s books at the time.

In my later teen years I read Robert Leeson’s Time Rope books: Time Rope, Three Against the World, At War With Tomorrow and The Metro Gangs Attack. This series is about three teens who travel through time by swinging on a rope hanging from an old tree in a mist-shrouded place called the Neural Zone. Again, memory fails me as to the details. I’ve continued to read Leeson’s books, most recently his retelling of the Arthurian legends, The Song of Arthur, although my favourite of his books is the parallel worlds novel, Slambash Wangs of a Compo Gormer.

Hmmm! I don’t seem to be doing too well in the memory stakes. I wonder if there are any other books I’ve read but can’t remember that I could recommend to you? 🙂

There are, of course, the plethora of Doctor Who novelisations, novels and short stories that I’ve read over the years. I do actually remember most of these. But they would be worthy of a post all to themselves. And I will get around to a Doctor Who post (or two, or three…) some time in the future. If you happen to have a time machine, feel free to skip ahead and read them now.

Let’s finish with a question. What are your favourite time travels books? Please feel free to leave your time travel recommendations in the comments section below.

Tune in next time, when Kate Forsyth, author of The Puzzle Ring, drops by to tell us about her favourite time travel books.

Catch ya later, George

The Star

The StarPicture books are not just for kids. Yes, there are some books, like those about Maisy the Mouse and Spot the Dog, which are simplistic and one-levelled and unlikely to appeal to anyone over the age of five. (I should add that there’s nothing wrong with books like these. My daughter loved them when she was younger.) But then there are books like Felicity Marshall’s The Star.

The Star is a story about a doll named Marion and her two friends Harley and Polka the dog. Harley and Polka are content in who they, but Marion longs for fame and adventure. She gets it. But it’s not all that she hoped it would be.

“And so, Marion became a star. A bridge was named after her. A perfume was named after her. A factory made little dolls that looked just like her.”

This is a timely story for today’s world of instant celebrities, where ‘reality’ television throws ordinary people into the limelight, then just as swiftly rips their celebrity status away. It’s a story about superficiality, about expectations and about friendship. It’s also about how fame can change a person. That’s a lot to cram into a picture book, but Marshall pulls it off.

“Sometimes Marion wondered what had happened to Harley and Polka, but mostly she was dazzled by the bright lights and thrilled by the roar of her cheering fans.”

Although wordy for a picture book, it’s not overly wordy (like, for example, Madonna’s English Roses). Marshall has managed a good balance of text and pictures to convey the story. And what lovely pictures they are. I’m not an artist, so I can’t explain the style or guess at the technique. All I can say is that they are beautiful.

The book is recommended for children 10+. But I think younger kids can enjoy it as well. My 7-year-old daughter liked it. Although missing the nuances, she followed the basic story and got the point that Harley and Polka were Marion’s true friends.

To get a feel for the book and sample the illustrations, check out the trailer:

The Star will be officially launched next Tuesday. The launch will include an exhibition of original artwork from the book.

When: 6:30pm Tuesday 13th of April

Where: Port Melbourne Prints and Framing, 276-278 Bay Street, Port Melbourne

RSVP: [email protected] or ph: (03) 9481 1120

If you’ve never been to a book launch, come along a give it a try! There’s usually free drinks and nibblies and, of course, the opportunity to meet the author/illustrator and get an autograph.

Well, that’s it for this post. Tune in next time when I’ll be taking you on a little trip through time.

Catch ya later,  George

Clutter, clutter and more clutter

My little blog bio proudly proclaims: “Bookish bloggings from the cluttered mind and bookshelf of Melbourne author, George Ivanoff.” I feel the need to explain.

My mind, my bookshelf (actually, that should be bookshelves, plural) and, indeed, my life, are cluttered. I work in a clutter. I share an office with my wife (a graphic artist). The office is divided down the middle by desks and shelving. Her side is neat and organised, as indeed, is her mind and approach to work. My side is … well … cluttered. (Am I overusing the ‘c’ word?) My shelves are piled with random collections of books, magazines, papers, DVDs, video tapes (Eeek! Old technology!) toys, cinema cups and unclassifiable paraphernalia. Every inch of my desk is taken up with something … anything. I submit, for your appraisal, Exhibit A:

My mind and my approach to writing approximate the look and feel of my workspace. My mind is rarely devoted to just one thing at any given moment. For instance — what am I reading? I am currently part way through the following:

  • John Christopher’s Tripods trilogy
    I’ve finished the first two books, The White Mountains and The City of Gold and Lead. Just the final book, The Pool of Fire, to go. Oh, and I’ll then read the prequel as well — When the Tripods Came.
  • One Step Ahead: Raising 3–12 Year Olds by Michael Grose
    I’m Dad to a 1-year-old and an almost-7-year-old, so I need to occasionally dip in to these sort of books in order to maintain my sanity. Or, at least, attempt to maintain my sanity. (Somewhere down the track I’ll have to do a post about finding the time to write while looking after kids.)
  • Issue 42 of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine
    I’m not a regular reader of this magazine. I got this issue because there’s a full-colour ad for Gamers’ Quest on the back cover. But, so far, I’m really enjoying the mag and even contemplating a subscription. Highly recommended if you’re into science fiction and fantasy, short stories.
  • The February issue of Oz Kids in Print
    This mag is published by the Australian Children’s Literary Board. Again, I’m not a regular reader. I’ve got this issue because it contains one of my articles.
  • The April issue of Victorian Writer
    This is one of my regular reads, as I’m a member of the Victorian Writers’ Centre.

Okay, that takes care of reading. What about writing? Here’s a round up of what I’m currently working on.

  • I’m just finishing up the second book in a series of kids’ reference books about nutrition. This book is about fibre but I’m not allowed to use the word ‘poo’, even though the book is aimed at second grade level. What do I use? Faeces? Digested waste material excreted from the bowels? Number twos? Doo-doo? My mind is spinning with euphemisms.
  • Tornado Riders
    This is a teen novel that I’m working on. At the moment it’s still very much in the planning stages as I scribble ideas, character outlines and scene snippets in my notebook. Whether it is ever completed, and then whether it is ever published, remains to be seen. After all, I have a draw full of unpublished (probably unpublishable) stuff that I feel to urge to add to occasionally.
  • Answers to two sets of interview questions for two different websites about the writing of Gamers’ Quest. One day I’ll write a post about what it’s like promoting a book.
  • And then, of course, there’s this little blog, which I’m planning as a twice-weekly endeavour.

So there you have it — a little insight into the workings of my cluttered little mind. But what about all of you out there in the blogosphere? Are you cluttered? Are you uncluttered? Have you ever de-cluttered? Leave a comment and share your experiences.

Now, as a final note (and simply because I feel the need to use that word one more time), may I say — embrace your CLUTTER!

Tune in next time, when you’ll hear me say: “Enough about me! Time to talk about a book!” And that book shall be The Star by Felicity Marshal.

Catch ya later,  George

Hello world!

I have been um-ing and ah-ing about blogging for some time now. You know, the usual sort of self-doubting questions most writers indulge in every now and then. Should I do it? Will I have enough things to blog about? Will I have enough time to do it? Will anyone out there actually read it? The part of me that wanted to blog was beginning to win out when this Boomerang Blog opportunity presented itself. I took it as a sign from … um … someone. And so here I am, inflicting my thoughts upon the unsuspecting denizens of cyberspace.

I have a cluttered mind and a cluttered bookshelf, so there’s a high probability of randomness on this blog. But I’ll start off by stating some of my literary likes so that you’ll have at least some idea of what may show up in my posts.

I love picture books. I have two young daughters, so I read a LOT of picture books. And guess what? Picture books aren’t just for kids.

I love science fiction and fantasy and horror (although not the blood and guts, splattery type horror). I quite like vampire fiction… but I feel the need to say that Twilight is not my cup of tea. Edward who?

I write books for kids and teens. I read lots of books aimed at kids and teens. Man, there’s some amazing stuff out there aimed at this market. So I’ll probably write about these sorts of books a fair bit. And I’ll probably write about the process of writing as well.

My favourite Aussie authors include Richard Harland, Carole Wilkinson and Terry Dowling. My favourite o/s authors include Neil Gaiman, Poppy Z Brite and John Christopher. I’ll most likely write about these people and their books at some point.

And now for a list (I like lists). My favourite books from 2009:

Oh, one more thing… I’m a Doctor Who fan. Yes, I know — it’s a tv show, but there are Doctor Who books as well, so you can be guaranteed of at least one Doctor Who post at some stage. So just deal with it!

Right! I think that’s enough for my first post. Tune in next time, when I’ll tell you all about my clutter.

Catch ya later,  George