Christmas shopping list

 

Queues, dodgy carols, aching legs, confusion over what size feet my nephew has. Not for me, this Christmas. This year I’m avoiding the festive-season shopping chaos and buying everyone a book and a pig (or maybe an orangutan). Here’s what my Christmas list looks like.

For my Teen Son: Legacy by Tim Cahill

LegacyBlurb: The story of one of the most admired Australian sportsmen,  international football star Tim Cahill. With his trademark honesty and directness, Tim reflects on what it takes to make it to the top – the sacrifices, the physical cost, the mental stamina, the uncompromising self-belief and self-determination, the ruthlessness, but also the decency, the integrity, and the generosity. An autobiography that is more than a record of the goals and the games, Tim Cahill’s story is a universal reminder of the importance of making your moment count.

For my other Teen Son: Rich and Rare, edited by Paul Collins

Rich & RareBlurb: A collection of stories and artwork from Australia’s best loved writers and illustrators.  With pieces by Shaun Tan, Leigh Hobbs, James Roy, Justin D’Ath, Kirsty Murray, Simon Higgins, Gary Crew, Scot Gardner, there’s something for everyone.

For my Hubbie: A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James

A brief history of seven killingsBlurb: A Brief History of Seven Killings chronicles the lives of a host of unforgettable characters – slum kids, one-night stands, drug lords, girlfriends, gunmen, journalists, and even the CIA. Gripping and inventive, ambitious and mesmerising, A Brief History of Seven Killings is one of the most remarkable and extraordinary novels of the twenty-first century.

For my Dad: Napoleon’s Last Island by Tom Keneally

Napoleon's Last IslandBlurb: Betsy Balcombe as a young woman lived with her family on St Helena. They befriended, served and were ruined by their relationship with Napoleon. To redeem the family’s fortunes William Balcombe, Betsy’s father, betrays Napoleon and accepts a job as the colonial treasurer of NSW, but William never recovers from the ups and downs of association with Napoleon. Tom Keneally, with his gift for bringing historical stories to life, shares this remarkable friendship and the beginning of an Australian dynasty.

For my Mum: The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks

The Secret ChordBlurb: A unique and vivid novel that retells the story of King David’s extraordinary rise to power and fall from grace. With stunning originality, acclaimed author Geraldine Brooks offers us a compelling portrait of a morally complex hero from this strange age – part legend, part history. Full of drama and richly drawn detail, The Secret Chord is a vivid story of faith, family, desire and power that brings David magnificently alive.

For my God-daughter: The Red Queen, by Isobelle Carmody

The Red QueenBlurb: The time has come at last for Elspeth Gordie to leave the Land on her quest to find and stop the computermachine Sentinel from unleashing the deadly Balance of Terror arsenal. But before she can embark on her quest, she must find a lost key; and although she has long prepared for this day, nothing is as she imagined. This is the final, dramatic volume in series of books that undoubtedly shines as one of the most fantastic, and fantastical, tapestries ever woven.

For my Nephew: Two Wolves, by Tristan Banks

Two WolvesBlurb: One afternoon, police officers show up at Ben Silver’s front door. Minutes after they leave, his parents arrive home. Ben and his little sister Olive are bundled into the car and told they’re going on a holiday. But are they? It doesn’t take long for Ben to realise that his parents are in trouble. Ben’s always dreamt of becoming a detective – his dad even calls him ‘Cop’. Now Ben gathers evidence and tries to uncover what his parents have done. The problem is, if he figures it out, what does he do? Tell someone? Or keep the secret and live life on the run?

For my Niece: The Call of the Wild – Choose Your Own Ever After, by Julie Fison (a very good read, even if I do say so myself)

The Call of the Wild - Choose Your Own Ever AfterBlurb: Phoebe Wright and her besties, Annabel and Kimmi have been invited to the coolest party of the year! But when Phoebe realises it’s on the same night as her Wild Club’s movie-night fundraiser, she’s totally torn about what to do. In this pick-a-path story, the reader gets to decide how the story goes.

Save the OrangutansFor everyone: Pigs and Goats by World Vision or Orangutans by Save the Orangutan.

Merry Christmas!

Julie xx

Julie Fison writes for children and young adults. Her books include the Hazard River adventure series for young readers, Choose Your Own Ever After, a pick-a-path series that lets the reader decide how the story goes, and Counterfeit Love for young adults.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A beauty – Rich and Rare

RIch and Rare cover Med ResThere really is something for everyone in Ford Street Publishing’s latest collection of Australian stories, poetry and artwork for teens – Rich and Rare. With pieces from almost 50 fab authors and illustrators, including Shaun Tan, Judith Rossell, Susanne Gervay, Gary Crew, Justin D’Ath and Michael Gerard Bauer (to mention a few), the anthology delivers tantalizing morsels to suit every reading taste. There’s an alien invasion, a Dickensian-style thriller, a warrior adventure in old Japan, a bushranger tale, intrigue in the cane fields of northern Queensland and much, much more.

Editor Paul Collins joins me ahead of next month’s book launch to take us inside Rich and Rare and to reflect on his own prolific and successful career as a writer, editor and publisher. Paul is best known for his fantasy and science fiction titles which include The Jelindel ChroniclesThe Quentaris Chronicles ─ co-edited with Michael Pryor, and The Warlock’s Child, done in collaboration with Sean McMullen. He also runs Ford Street Publishing and the Creative Net Speakers’ Agency.

JF: Congratulations, on Rich and Rare, Paul. What a line-up of Australian talent! What can readers expect from this collection?

PC: I’d like to think a sumptuous literary feast. No one will go away hungry, as the collection is a literary banquet with something for everyone.

JF: How does it compare to others anthologies you’ve edited?

PC: Anthologies aren’t as easy to put together as they might seem. An editor starts off with a list of potential contributors. I’ve been lucky in as much that most of my list this time around contributed illustrations, stories or poems. Across the three anthologies I’ve edited lately, I think everyone I’ve approached is represented. But not one of the collections has everyone. So too people reading Rich and Rare will be happy to see some contributors lacking in the other anthologies, but on the reverse mystified that others are missing. This collection is more illustrative and has longer and more varied works. This will please some, and perhaps disappoint others. So in answer to your question, it’s very subjective. A creator’s latest work is always their “best” work.

JF: What are the challenges of editing such a large collection of stories, poems and artwork?

PAUL-COLLINS-PC: Most contributors aren’t precious about their stories being edited. Those who are can be difficult. Working with up to fifty creatives can be challenging – remembering of course I’m working with many others at the same time. And because an editor says a story should follow this or that path, doesn’t necessarily mean the editor is right. It can be subjective. Stories especially vary in quality, and it’s the editor’s job to get some rough stones and polish them to gem standard. Hopefully, and with the help of several others here at Ford Street, I’ve managed to do this.

JF: You’re a writer, editor and publisher – how do you fit it all in? 

PC: I think I’ve edited around a dozen anthologies. This doesn’t include 45 collections Meredith Costain and I edited for Pearson (Spinouts and Thrillogies). I’ve published around 100 + books over the years, and written around 150. Running Creative Net Speakers’ Agency and the seminars/festivals does keep me busy!

JF: What are you currently working on? 

PC: Right now I have three plays and two short story collections (the latter in collaboration with Meredith Costain) coming out from other publishers. This year I published around 16 books. I have my first 2016 title, Dance, Bilby, Dance, by Tricia Oktober, ready to go to the printer.

JF: How did you get started as a writer and what led you to publishing?

PC: I self-published my first novel at the age of nineteen. Realising it wasn’t good enough, I figured I’d move into publishing other people’s work. I published Australia’s first heroic/epic fantasy novels in the early 80s. I also published science fiction books. Losing distribution I returned to writing. My first book was published by HarperCollins in 1995.

JF: You’re best known for your fantasy and science fiction writing – what appeals about those genres?

PC: They’re as far away from contemporary as you can get. I think we live the lives of those people we read in contemporary novels, so why read about them? I can’t imagine why people watch TV shows like East Enders and Coronation Street, or the spate of reality TV shows. Big Brother for example must have been one of the most boring shows anyone could watch. And that’s what I feel about contemporary fiction.

JF: Does your personal passion affect your publishing decisions?

PC: No. I have published contemporary fiction, for example. I don’t just stick to fantasy and science fiction. If I think something has quality and there’s a market for it, I have to make a commercial decision.

JF: What do you wish you’d known when you started?

PC: The massive database I’ve built up over the years, contacts with book clubs and others who buy bulk books. Basically, knowledge that you need to be successful. Alas, unless someone sits down and gives you a list, you need to find all this stuff out yourself. And that takes years.

JF: What’s your advice for aspiring writers?

PC: Persistence is the key. The Wizard’s Torment was my first book – that’s the one that sold to HarperCollins. I had written it in the early 80s. It took me around twelve years to get it published. I wrote another book at the same time called The Earthborn. That was rejected by just about every publisher in Australia. An agent sent it to TOR in the US and sold sold the trilogy over there. I mentally thanked every Australian publisher that had rejected it. Just never give up.

JF: Thanks Paul, and good luck with Rich and Rare!

PC: Thanks, Julie.

Paul Collins has edited many anthologies including Trust Me!, Metaworlds and Australia’s first fantasy anthology, Dream Weavers. He also edited The MUP Encyclopaedia of Australian SF&F. Paul has been short-listed for many awards and has won the Inaugural Peter McNamara and the A Bertram Chandler awards, both of which were for lifetime achievement in science fiction, and the Aurealis and William Atheling awards. His book, Slaves of Quentaris, features in 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Die (UK, 2009).

Paul Collins website.

Ford Street Publishing website. 

Julie Fison writes for children and young adults. Her books include the Hazard River adventure series for young readers, Choose Your Own Ever After, a pick-a-path series that lets the reader decide how the story goes, and Counterfeit Love for young adults. Her latest short story – Sugar is Sweet is in Rich and Rare.  

 

The Mayne Inheritance and other Australian Gothic Classics

I’ve been immersed in gothic tales lately – doing a spot of research for a story I’m working on. And it was after several friends insisted I read Rosamond Siemon’s 1997 non-fiction work, The Mayne Inheritance, that I finally picked it up.

I couldn’t put it down.

The Mayne InheritanceSiemon delves into the lives of the Maynes – a wealthy Brisbane family who donated 270 acres of riverside land to the University of Queensland to build a new campus in 1926. It might sound like a worthy story of philanthropy. But it’s actually a gripping tale of murder, madness and social exclusion. It sheds light on the murky origins of the family’s wealth and explores the stigma that still surrounds the family today.

Siemon also paints a vivid picture of Brisbane’s early history – from the mid nineteenth century, when it was a lonely colonial outpost, prone to floods and fires, through to the early twentieth century when Brisbane developed into a flourishing river city.

Ever since finishing the book I’ve looked at my hometown with fresh eyes – inspecting the streets for markers of the era that Siemon describes.

For the Term of His Natural LifeIt might come as a surprise that Brisbane has much of a past to explore. As a teenager I recall heritage buildings being torn down in the dead of night by dodgy demolition crews. But enough fragments of old Brisbane remain, as a reminder of the people and events that shaped the city.

There is certainly a great deal of the Mayne’s legacy left. The University of Queensland remains on the sprawling St Lucia site, donated by surgeon and philanthropist Dr James Mayne. And income from the quietly elegant Brisbane Arcade, which was built on the site of the family’s butcher shop, still supports the University’s Medical School. The Mayne’s grand home, Moorlands, is preserved in the grounds of the Wesley Hospital.


In true gothic fashion, their legacy includes a ghost. The spirit of Mrs Mayne, dressed in black, is said to bustle along the upper floor of the Brisbane Arcade – drifting through shop windows and rattling display cabinets in the quiet of the afternoon.

Picnic at Hanging RockAlthough Australia might seem like an unlikely place for gothic literature – what with the dearth of draughty castles, foggy lanes and sinister gargoyles, there’s actually a strong tradition in our novels. Marcus Clarke’s classic, For the Term of his Natural Life, Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock and Rosa Praed’s many novels of colonial isolation all pit ill-prepared settlers against the foreboding bush.


Sonya Hartnett’s terrifying Wolf Creek and Kenneth Cook’s Wake in Fright continue the tradition, with the outback taking on a sinister personae, where no one is safe.

Plenty of research material for me to be getting on with, but I might leave the last two until after I’ve finished exploring the Australian outback!

Julie Fison writes for children and young adults. Her books include the Hazard River adventure series for young readers, Choose Your Own Ever After, a pick-a-path series that lets the reader decide how the story goes, and Counterfeit Love for young adults.

Chatting with Toni Jordan

toni-portraitAs much-loved Australian novelist Toni Jordan sees it, some writers have ideas banked up like circling planes waiting for their turn to land, but her creative mind is more like a desert, occasionally crossed by tumbleweed.

Well, that’s some impressive tumbleweed that’s rolling along on the breeze!

AdditionIn her debut novel, Addition, Toni Jordan introduces us to Grace, a woman who counts everything to hold her world together. Jordan provides a fresh take on the romantic comedy and a unique perspective on living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in a novel that is charming and enlightening.

Another quirky young woman takes centre stage in Fall Girl, about a professional con artist who falls for her mark. The novel is woven with humour and intrigue, making it a lively and compelling story.

Jordan departs from the chick-lit genre in her most recent novel, Nine Days, delivering touching snapshots of Australian family life. It begins in a working- class suburb of Melbourne on the eve of World War 2 and bounces between decades, telling the story of the Westaway family. Each chapter is dedicated to a crucial day in the life of a different member of the family. Jordan manages to give each character a fresh and authentic voice that makes this story a beautiful and memorable read.

So, what’s next? Toni Jordan visits Boomerang Books to tell all.

JF: Welcome, Toni Jordan! You’ve written best-selling romantic comedies – Addition and Fall Girl and a touching historical family drama in Nine Days. What can we expect from your next novel?

TJ: I’ve been trying for about two years to write something a bit more serious, along the ‘touching’ vein. But it’s not happening (or at least, not very well). So it’s another romantic comedy—a kind of sexy romp/satire thingee. I’m amusing myself, at any rate.

JF: You’ve likened your creative brain to a desert, occasionally crossed by tumbleweed. Can you expand on this and explain a little more about the inspiration for your work.

TJ: Yes, this is exactly right! I had these grand ideas for my next novel but on the page it was this lumpen, doughy thing. I’d decided to abandon it and then, while I was on holidays over Christmas, I re-read Anna Karenina. The beginning is amazing: Stiva wakes up on the sofa in his study and wonders why he’s sleeping there instead of in his wife’s bed. Then he remembers that yesterday, she found out he was having an affair with their children’s governess. Awesome. So an idea sprang into my head about this complicated group of couples, all falling in and out of love with each other over the course of a weekend, beginning at the same point.

Nine Days began with the photo on the jacket, of a woman reaching up to kiss a departing soldier through the window of a train. I never thought I’d be one of those people who could write from a photo, and it took a long time but eventually it all came.

Nine DaysJF: I was intrigued by the structure of Nine Days. It is written in first person from the point of view of nine different characters. How did this test you as a writer?

TJ: I was really worried if I could pull this off. The worst thing would be to stuff this up, I think, and have them all sounding the same. The nine of them were very clear in my own head—I knew each of them very well—so I set myself a kind of challenge. My aim was that, if a reader looked at any three sentences that were together in a chapter, they should be able to tell which character it was. I’m still really happy about the way it turned out.

JF: Nine Days jumps back and forth between the decades. Did you write the chapters in the same order that they are presented in the book?

TJ: This is funny—I also teaching creative writing and over the years, a number of students have asked my advice about writing non-chronological narratives. I always told them the same thing: that they should write the story chronologically, then move things around to sit in the order they wanted.

When it came to doing it myself, however, do you think that this is how I did it? No, I didn’t. I found it much easier to conceptualise how the reader would unravel each clue if I wrote it in the order it appears in the book. My advice to all those students was rubbish.

JF: Nine Days was inspired by a photograph of an unnamed young soldier heading off to war on a train, his sweetheart reaching up to kiss him farewell. Has anyone come forward to claim they know the couple?

TJ: We’ve had a few ‘maybe’ people. The most likely is that the photo is actually an aunt seeing off her nephew. But the romantic in me doesn’t want to think about that.

Fall GirlJF: You spoke at the inaugural Historical Novel Society Australasia conference. What advice would you give to aspiring historical novelists?

TJ: I honestly think that research is not as important as emerging novelists think it is. What matters in historical fiction are the same things that matter in any other kind of fiction: a wonderful story about interesting people, well told.

JF: Can you name a few of your favourite historical novels?

TJ: Of course I’m Mantel mad. I also loved Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, Possession by AS Byatt, Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey and anything by Sarah Waters. One of my former students, Ilka Tampke, has just published her debut novel, Skin. It’s historical fantasy set in iron-age Britain and it’s just wonderful.

JF: Thank you Toni Jordan and good luck with your next story. I can’t wait to read it!

Julie Fison writes for children and young adults. Her books include the Hazard River adventure series for young readers, Choose Your Own Ever After, a pick-a-path series that lets the reader decide how the story goes, and Counterfeit Love for young adults.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m not loafing, I’m doing research

Is it too late to say – Happy New Year! I hope you’ve had a great start to the year.

I’ve been flat out working all summer. My friends and family would probably say otherwise, that I’ve been lazing around on holidays, that I’ve barely had my laptop open. But that’s just the point.

Paradise, NZI’ve been travelling, gazing out plane windows, eavesdropping at restaurants, chatting with strangers, watching movies, gathering characters, uncovering settings, and generally getting inspired. It’s called research. It’s a tough part of writing, but it has to get done. What can I say?

The Moth DiariesI’ve also consumed a lot of books. I read everything with a highlighter in one hand and an analytical eye, looking for ways to improve my own writing. That sometimes takes the fun out of reading, but I definitely appreciate a well-written book, more than I ever did.

I thoroughly enjoyed Rachel Klein’s menacing YA gothic tale – The Moth Diaries. It’s no ordinary teen vampire story. The tension is between the girls at an exclusive boarding school. The sixteen-year-old narrator records her thoughts – diary-style, as questions start to mount about the identity of new-girl, Ernessa, and her intentions towards the narrator’s best friend, Lucy. It’s a compelling and haunting read.

A toxic friendship is also at the heart of Rebecca James’ YA page-turner, Beautiful Malice. Beautiful MaliceThe book hooked me right from the first line – I didn’t go to Alice’s funeral, and kept me racing right to the end, as it flicked between three different time periods. The main thread focuses on the blossoming friendship between two girls in their final year of high school. But Katherine’s hopes of escaping her tragic past sour as her new friend Alice’s motives start to look sinister.

State of GraceMeanwhile, utopia is not quite what it seems in Hilary Badger’s debut YA novel, State of Grace. This clever story puts a group of teenagers in an earthly paradise, where everything and everyone is beautiful. But when Wren starts having visions of another life, she has to decide whether to investigate what lies beyond the idyllic garden or continue to live in perfect ignorance. An intriguing read.

Happy researching!

Julie

Julie Fison writes for children and young adults. Her books include the Hazard River adventure series for young readers, Choose Your Own Ever After, a pick-a-path series that lets the reader decide how the story goes, and Counterfeit Love for young adults.

 

 

Archimede Fusillo talks about Dead Dog In The Still Of The Night

Dead Dog In The Still Of The NightAward-winning Australian author, Archimede Fusillo delves deep into what it is to be a man in his latest coming-of-age novel for young adults, Dead Dog In The Still Of The Night. 

The story follows the journey of Primo as he attempts to navigate his way though his final year of school with an emotionally brittle mother, a father suffering from dementia, a troubled brother and a demanding older girlfriend. When Primo crashes his father’s prized Fiat Bambino he’s forced to make some difficult decisions. Without strong role models, his choices are dubious and ultimately lead to more trouble. Primo discovers that there’s more to being a man than just posturing as one.

JF: Congratulations on your new book, Dead Dog In The Still Of The Night, Archimede Fusillo. You have carved a niche in the YA market writing about boys seeking an identity. Can you explain the motivation for this?

AF: I have always thought that boys and young men were more than simply the sum of their adventures. It seems to me that too often males in general are portrayed by the mass media as being one dimensional, with little to draw upon apart from angst, self-destruction and a high tolerance for drink and mayhem.

All I ever set out to do was explore what I saw was the deeper more emotional, more humane side of the male gender. I was brought up surrounded by boys, young men and older men who were not carbon copies of one another.

What spoke to me was the breadth and depth of dignity, a sense of caring, and yes, even a degree of self-loathing that permeated the life of boys seeking to discover what it was that made them men, what the parameters and boundaries and expectations were and are that help define one’s sense of selfhood.

JF: There are some deeply flawed male characters in Dead Dog in the Still of the Night. Is this how you see society in general?

Archie Fusillo profile pic at TLC June 2014 croppedAF: Being flawed is a human not a “male” condition. Perhaps it’s just that with the male propensity to mask hurt and pain and sorrow and grief under masks of macho bravado, the flaws are more highlighted than might otherwise be the case.

I’m not a sociologist, or even an anthropologist. I don’t have answers to why some people – male and female, are flawed more obviously than others. All I know is that the machinations set in motion when people seek to hide their flaws, or cannot control them, make for powerful human stories.

In Dead Dog In The Still Of The Night, Primo’s mother is flawed too. Otherwise how to explain her inability (unwillingness?) for so many years to make a stand against all the emotional damage her husband brings to bear upon her family.

The male characters in the novel are flawed, but not damaged beyond redemption –  at least not Primo. Their flaws are compounded, perhaps even brought about by, their inability to put others ahead of themselves. It takes a very strong sense of other, a willingness to look at the world through another’s eyes, and walk about in their shoes, to be able to identify clearly one’s own shortcomings. And perhaps this is the greatest flaw of all of the males in this novel – their inability to reflect upon another, let alone their own actions before those same actions bring about dire consequences.

JF: As with your other YA novels, family is at the centre of this story, rather than a peer group. Why do you focus on family?

The DonsAF: Family is the centre of the world I know and have grown up in. Italians see family as the core of who they are – as a race, as a nation. It is inbred in me to believe in the sanctity of family, and therefore in the power of family to both destroy and create, to love and to loath, to offer and to take. A peer group is by and large an artificial construct that exists outside of bloodlines and blood obligations. The most fascinating, the most powerful, the most engaging stories often begin with the individual caught within the web of the family-its expectations, its dramas, its demands, and its rewards.

With this in mind, why wouldn’t I focus on the pull and push of family life when I want to give my characters the motivation for questioning everything they have come to believe about themselves and the world around them.

JF: The novel’s main character, Primo, is forced to make choices without the benefit of strong male role models. What impact does this have on him and how do you see this playing out more generally in society?

AF: It is a natural aspect of growing up that we look to others for some signposting about where we are at any stage of our lives. Every civilization has rites and rituals where boys look up to their elders for guidance, and the role of the older male role model can’t be overestimated. Choices made without guidance can’t be measured until after the event, so role models can act as a sounding board, helping us avoid some of the pitfalls in life.

Primo’s choices are made according to his own still very limited view and understanding of the world and how it operates – so there is ample room for him to misread cues, not least of all those that require a maturity beyond his youthful years to fully appreciate. Of course he will make mistakes. How big those mistakes are, and how they will impact on him and his family is at the core of the novel’s plot.

JF: As a father, how do you handle the job of role model?

AF: All I can do, all I have ever tried to do is listen, try not to prejudge-and more significantly, try to remember what it was like to be a boy and then a young man.

JF: What’s next for you?

AF: I am working on a new YA novel about young love, poor decisions, and the comedy of being in a big, loud, unashamedly loving family-unsettled by the oddball, unsettling, blended family that moves in next door!

Oh – and Josie Montano and I have co-authored a YA novel titled Veiled Secrets which has been bought by the US publisher Solstice – due out in hard and electronic copy early 2015.

JF: Thanks for visiting, Archimede. Good luck with Dead Dog In the Still Of The Night and your upcoming books.

Julie Fison writes for children and young adults. Her books include the Hazard River adventure series for young readers, Choose Your Own Ever After, a pick-a-path series that lets the reader decide how the story goes, and Counterfeit Love for young adults.

Judith Rossell chats about Withering-by-Sea

judith rossell photographJudith Rossell’s prodigious talents as an illustrator and writer, her inimitable wit and her obsession with Victoriana come together superbly in her latest book for children – Withering-by-Sea.

The story follows the trials of Stella Montgomery, an 11-year-old orphan, who lives with her dreadful aunts in a damp, dull hotel in Victorian England. But everything changes when she witnesses an evil act in the conservatory.

The book is the first in a series of Victorian adventures for Stella Montgomery and features the kind of beautifully intricate and magical drawings that have made Judith Rossell one of Australia’s most successful illustrators.

Judith joins me to talk about her new book and the historical period that inspired it.

JF: Congratulations on Withering-by-Sea. It’s a wonderful book and the illustrations are stunning. Which came first – the pictures or the words?

JR: Thanks Julie! I’m very happy with how it came together. (Particularly the ribbon. I’m very happy about the ribbon!). I started with the words, but along the way I did some of the drawings. Sometimes drawing the little details of the characters or the setting can give ideas for the story. Drawing the pier gave me the idea of a theatre, which gave me the idea that the Professor was a stage magician.

JF: What interests you about Victorian England?

withering front coverJR: I’m a big fan of the early Sherlock Holmes stories, with the lovely atmosphere of fog and gaslight, and mysterious goings-on. And it was such an interesting era for the enormous changes that were happening, so many important inventions, and social changes. The pace of change in the 1890s was so much greater than now, people experienced the first telephones, motorcars, moving pictures, anesthetics, votes for women, education for all children… so many life-changing things. It must have been an exciting time to live.

JF: Why do aunties get such a bad rap in Victorian era fiction?

JR: Aunties and Stepmothers! You’d expect your mother to be on your side, sympathetic, reliable and looking out for you, but an Aunty might do anything! Aunties have many more possibilities, for exciting adventures, and for evil deeds. (I’m an Aunty myself, so I can say these things).

JF: There are some very fanciful characters in the story – singing cats, a clockwork beetle, and a hand of glory. Where have these come from?

I remember reading a story when I was little which had a hand of glory in it, and I found it terrifying! The clockwork beetle is a little bit steampunkish, I think. I like the idea of clockwork and magic working together. I can’t remember where I got the idea of the singing cats from… Sometimes things just come to you, and you think – yes!

pier low resJF: What are the most intriguing snippets of Victoriana that you unearthed while writing Withering-by-Sea?

JR: My favourite invention of the time is a bed that’s attached to a clockwork timer. You wind it up, and go to sleep, and all night it goes tick tick tick, and in the morning, the whole thing flips over and dumps you on the floor. What a way to wake up! I have a recipe book, too, and my favourite recipe is for negus, a kind of fruit punch, which was mainly served at children’s parties. The recipe says for 10-12 little children, a pint of cheap port is sufficient. Basically, don’t waste the expensive drink on the little kids.

JF: How long do you spend on each drawing and did you have to redraw any to suit the story that you eventually wrote?

JR: The single page pictures took three or four days each, and yes, I did have to do a couple of them again, because I rewrote the ending of the story, and there were significant changes. It’s difficult to be annoyed with the writer changing her mind, when the writer is yourself. haha.

JF: This is the eleventh book you have written. You have illustrated 80 books. Which do you find more rewarding – writing or illustrating? 

JR: I like them both. I enjoy illustrating picture books, and bringing the characters to life. But it’s also been a real pleasure to write and illustrate my own book, without having to consider what another creator might want. I’ve never written something that someone else has illustrated, I think it would be difficult to put your work into someone else’s hands, and step back. I admire the writers who can trust the illustrator like that.

JF: You worked as a scientist before becoming an illustrator and writer. How does your background affect your work?

singing catsJR: The only thing I can think of is that I do enjoy the research. I love getting a new history book and reading it to find things I might use for my story. At the moment, I’m reading a book about shell grottoes, which were caves and tunnels people built in their gardens in the 18th and 19th centuries, decorated with shells and coral and stones. One was decorated with the knucklebones of sheep, and another with the baby teeth of the children in the house! I’d love to put a shell grotto in my new story.

JF: I remember sharing a stage with you and a group of other talented authors at a school in Rockhampton. Michael Gerard Bauer revealed that he had wanted to be a Ninja when he grew up. I shared my hopes of owning a wildlife sanctuary in Africa and you revealed that you wanted to be a rubbish collector. Why was that?

Three AuntsJR: I’d forgotten that! I was very little, and the father of one of the boys in our class was a rubbish collector. He used to ride on the back of the truck and jump down and pick up the bins. And it was clearly the best job in the world, this boy had a lot of status in our class, because his dad had such a cool job. I was a bit vague about what my dad actually did (he was a scientist), and so for a while I pretended he was a rubbish collector as well, so people would think I was cool too. Sadly, I don’t think they ever did.

JF: I understand you are working on a sequel to Withering-by-Sea. Any hints on what Stella Montgomery gets up to in that one?

JR: Aha! I’m working on it right now. The title is probably going to be Wormwood Mire. Stella is sent away to a mysterious house, to stay with two cousins and their governess. And there’s something lurking in the forest… Something frightening…

JF: Thank you for visiting Judith. Good luck with Withering-by-Sea. I look forward to the sequel!

Julie Fison writes for children and young adults. Her books include the Hazard River adventure series for young readers, Choose Your Own Ever After, a pick-a-path series that lets the reader decide how the story goes, and Counterfeit Love for young adults.

 

Gary Crew chats about The Cuckoo

Gary CrewMulti-award winning author Gary Crew delivers a dark, but compelling Australian fairy tale in his latest illustrated book, The Cuckoo (Ford Street Publishing). The story follows the journey of Martin, a boy on the cusp of becoming a teenager, living in the Blue Mountains. Deserted by his mother, bullied by his brothers and neglected by his father, he seeks solace in the bush. The story is a warning against arrogance and is cleverly complemented by the intricate and surreal drawings of Naomi Turvey.

Gary Crew joins me to talk about The Cuckoo and his other recent works. 

JF: Gary Crew, congratulations on the The Cuckoo. The book is ultimately a tale of forgiveness and hope, but there is a great deal of cruelty in the story. Can you explain the background to the book?

GC: Having taught Murray Bale’s novel ‘Eucalyptus’ at university, I was interested in writing an Australian Fairy Tale that would appeal to boys. The extract from Perrault’s ‘Hop o’ my Thumb’ which introduces The Cuckoo proved the perfect starting point for a Fairy Tale based on sibling rivalry and sacrifice.

The CuckooThe Cuckoo is an illustrated book, aimed at middle school readers. What does an illustrated book offer children heading into the teenage years?

GC: Visual literacy is a vital element associated with negotiating the modern world, irrespective of the reader’s age, so that’s one reason; secondly, the image allows the basic print narrative to be extended into a multiplicity of personal interpretations and readings according to the reader’s unlimited imagination.

JF: Would you classify The Cuckoo as a Post Modern picture book? 

GC: Yes, I think I would because it is a bit ‘off the wall’.

JF: There is a heavy focus on nature in your illustrated books – Finding Home, In the Beech Forest and The Cuckoo. Do you think your own environment – the Sunshine Coast hinterland, has played a part in that? In the Beech Forest

GC: For the last 20 years, I have lived on property in the beautiful Blackall Ranges which form the Sunshine Coast Hinterland. My tiny cottage is on top of a mountain; my view is sky and forest. I can’t help but be overawed by nature’s wonders.

JF: You are Associate Professor, Creative Writing at the University of the Sunshine Coast. How does your teaching background affect the way you write?

GC: This is a great question: the guaranteed income from my university teaching allows me the freedom to innovate and experiment with my writing and publications. I can ‘push the envelope’ and affect genres. I love trying new ideas in both print and illustrative forms.

JF: Do you feel the need to educate when you write as a result of your profession?

GC: No, I don’t feel the need to educate (I don’t really like the word: it means ‘to lead…’ I’m not keen on leading!), but I do like to share my enthusiasm for the uplift that writing creatively can give.

The Architecture of SongJF: After writing many books for young adults, you wrote two books for adults – The Children’s Writer and The Architecture of Song. Did this change you as a writer?

GC: As I read mostly adult literary works, the time had come for me to ‘have a go’ at writing for an older audience myself. I found a great sense of freedom in doing that.

JF: You have returned to illustrated books. What appeals to you about this genre?

GC: I read the world visually and I love the collaboration with illustrators that the genre allows me.

JF: What’s next for you – more illustrated stories, or something different?

GC: I have contracts for an historical YA novel, ‘Voicing the Dead’ with Ford St and an illustrated book with a seriously innovative ‘steam punk’ artist (Paul O’Sullivan) for ‘The Visions of Ichabod X’ (Harbour publishing). Both are for publication in 2015.

JF: Thanks for visiting, Gary and good luck with The Cuckoo.  

Julie Fison writes for children and young adults. Her books include the Hazard River adventure series for young readers, Choose Your Own Ever After, a pick-a-path series that lets the reader decide how the story goes, and Counterfeit Love for young adults.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas wish list

Christmas holidays are all about catching up with friends and family, and catching up on all the books that I haven’t had a chance to read during the year. I’m not a fan of reading on the beach – too sunny, too many kids to watch, too many friends to chat with. But once I settle into a shady spot with a good book, I can get lost for hours. Maybe a little too lost.

EyrieLast summer, on the hottest day of the year, I was immersed in Tim Winton’s Eyrie, under a shady ghost gum, when I noticed something moving out of the corner of my eye. A snake had made its way onto the arm of my sun lounger and was staring at me, flicking its tongue, inquisitively. I was so absorbed in Eyrie that I hadn’t even noticed, until the snake was centimetres from my face. I hurled myself off the chair and the snake took off in the other direction. A nasty interruption to my relaxing afternoon.

Once again this year my Christmas wish list will be filled with books, but I might just glance around now and then, when I’m reading, no matter how engaging the story is.

Here’s what’s on my wish list:

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

9781741666700I can’t wait to get into this Man Booker Prize winning novel, which my fellow blogger, Jon Page, recently reviewed.

“Richard Flanagan has written a tragic love story, a deconstruction of heroism and mateship, and captured a side of humanity I’ve never read before. Wars, according to our history books, have beginnings and ends but for those who take part in wars, who are swept up in its maelstrom, there is no beginning or end. There is only life. And the damage war causes must be endured by those lucky or unlucky enough to survive it.”

The Writing Life by David Malouf

The Writing LifeDavid Malouf examines the work of writers who have challenged, inspired and entertained us for generations – from Christina Stead, Les Murray and Patrick White to Proust, Shakespeare and Charlotte Bronte. He also looks at his own work and the life of the writer, where the danger is spending too much time talking about writing and not enough doing it.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel

I am a huge fan of Hilary Mantel – the double Man Booker Prize-winning author of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. The Assassination of Margaret ThatcherHer portraits of Thomas Cromwell’s England are epic historical tales, so I’m intrigued to delve into this collection of short stories, which promise to summon the horrors so often concealed behind everyday facades. 

The Wife Drought by Annabel Crabb

The Wife DroughtUbiquitous journalist, Annabel Crabb takes a new angle on the work-family balance debate, by bringing working men into the picture. She asks why we have become fixated on the barriers that women face progressing in the workplace, and forgotten about the barriers that still block the exits for men? The Wife Drought is peppered with candid anecdotes from Crabb’s own work-family juggling act, is a thoughtful addition to the equality discussion and a call for a ceasefire in the gender wars.

I’d love to hear what’s on your wish list. Happy reading.

Julie

Julie Fison writes for children and young adults. Her books include the Hazard River series for young readers, the Choose Your Own Ever After series that lets the reader decide how the story goes, and Counterfeit Love for young adults.

Chrissie Michaels – breathing life into history

Chrissie MichaelsIt was while researching the French explorer Nicolas Baudin that Australian children’s author, Chrissie Michaels came across one of those gems that every writer loves to find. It was the story of a young convict girl, who was transported to New South Wales for theft and ended up as a passenger on Baudin’s ship as he mapped Australia’s southern coastline.

Snippets of nineteenth century journals provided a glimpse of Mary Beckwith’s extraordinary life. From there, Chrissie Michaels filled in the gaps to offer an insight into conditions in the early convict days and the role of French explorers in Australia’s history. Convict Girl: The Diary of Mary Beckwith and Chrissie Michaels’ other intriguing story – Voyage to Botany Bay, are part of the My Australian Story series (Scholastic Australia).

Chrissie joins me today to chat about resuscitating characters from history.

You have two books in the My Australian Story series. I’m particularly intrigued by Mary Beckwith. Can you tell us a bit of the background to Convict Girl: The Diary of Mary Beckwith?

Convict Girl: The Diary of Mary Beckwith is my second novel in the My Australian Story series published by Scholastic Australia. It was while researching the French explorer Nicolas Baudin and his voyage of discovery that I came upon the story of Mary Beckwith. She sailed with Baudin when he left Port Jackson (Sydney) and is acknowledged as the first European woman to set foot in South Australia, at Kangaroo Island.

my-australian-storyConvict girlThe novel is written as a diary from Mary’s point of view and covers the times she lived through after she and her mother were transported to New South Wales for stealing some cloth.

Much of Mary Beckwith’s life remains a mystery. Apart from the Old Bailey trial, and the convict list giving her transportation details, there are only brief remarks made about her in some of the journals from the Baudin expedition. As well there is a reference to her in Matthew Flinders’ diary, made while he was a prisoner in Mauritius. We also know that Mary’s mother later married the colony’s Judge Advocate, Richard Atkins. This gave me great scope to breathe life into her character.

What appeals to you about historical fiction?

I have a thirst for knowledge about the past. Once I go down the road, I have to know what is going on. I turn every corner. You could say I am insatiably curious.

The novels I have written for Scholastic’s My Australian Story series draw upon a particular passion of mine for French history. Both novels feature a French navigator. In Convict Girl Baudin, his scientists and his officers made a wonderful contribution to world knowledge through their magnificent natural history collection. Voyage to Botany Bay similarly traces the earlier expedition of Lapérouse (aka La Pérouse) which touched on the shores of Botany Bay at the same time as the First Fleet arrived. I am pleased to think that my books may help to further our understanding and appreciation of the role that French navigators played in Australia’s history.

Where do find a voice for your characters?

When it comes to finding a character’s voice I think my right brain works better than my left! I tend to carry the character around in my head for quite a while, rather than make character profiles or lists. The characters themselves are shaped by the story, which these days always seem to come from a historical event that has piqued my interest. I try to walk in their shoes during the specific historical period; try to solve their problems for them as they come along.

In Lonnie's ShadowOnce I discover a character’s voice the writing definitely comes more easily. The characters begin to take on a life of their own. I like to see them grow, become more independent, not always accept what is happening to them. Perhaps that is why my choice is to have characters who often live on the edge of the law. I have to make some decisive value judgements about their actions. Take Lonnie McGuinness, who appears in my YA novel, In Lonnie’s Shadow (Ford Street Publishing). He was always going to be a larrikin. However, I knew he would stand apart from gangs like the Push, and the Glass and Bottle, who loitered around the Little Lon lanes and alleyways in 1890 Melbourne. Lonnie always wanted to be his own man. He was never going to be a follower. Like any modern day hero he tried to right the wrongs around him. He looked after his mates, even if how he did this was sometimes questionable.

How much research goes into building authentic characters?

I try to immerse myself in the era that I am researching. Because I tend to approach writing about people who have already lived with a sense of caution, I spend a lot of time cross-checking details. My coffee table collection is pretty impressive! And I spend a lot of time doing initial research via the Web.

There is always an opportunity to network and call on expert help! During my writing of Voyage To Botany Bay I was able to have an on-going correspondence with representatives from the Musée de Lapérouse in Albi, as well as with the late Mr Reece Discombe who was the rediscoverer of the Lapérouse shipwrecks in the 1960s. They clarified lots of details for me about landscape and place as well.

My research for In Lonnie’s Shadow began with a visit to the Melbourne Museum and grew from there. The artifacts from the archaeological dig at Little Lon, shown as part of their Melbourne Story exhibition inspired the narrative structure. Each chapter title is an artifact with literal or metaphorical significance to the storyline. It is only a short walk across town from the museum to the State Library. I spent many an hour immersed in ephemera and trawling through microfiche records of the period (pre TROVE).

my-australian-story-voyage-to-botany-bayThere is much relief in having others validate the accuracy of your own research. I can’t tell you how pleased I was when Martine Marin of the Association of Friends of Nicolas Baudin in France (Les Amis de Nicolas Baudin) recently wrote to me, referring to my latest novel Convict Girl as ‘very well documented’. She also devoted a page to Convict Girl in the association’s latest newsletter and gave it a strong recommendation to readers.

What’s next for you – more historical fiction?

Yes, I am currently researching and writing another historical novel based on an event I came across whilst researching Convict Girl. I hope to have the manuscript completed by early next year.

I also write teacher texts for primary and secondary English and History, and have a few things on the go in this area as well.

Thank you for visiting, Chrissie. Good luck with your next project. 

For further information about Chrissie Michaels’ novels and for teachers’ notes, visit Chrissie’s website.

Visit my blog again soon, or you call follow me on Facebook and Twitter at the addresses below.

Happy reading,

Julie Fison

 

 

 

 

Hazel Edwards discusses collaboration and controversy

Hazel EdwardsOn the day that prolific Australian author, Hazel Edwards was honoured with an Order of Australia Medal for services to literature, her latest young adult novel was receiving a very different distinction at the other end of the country.

Hazel Edwards has written more than 200 books, including the hugely popular Hippopotamus picture book series, but none has provoked the reaction of f2m: the boy within. The book, co-written by Ryan Kennedy, tells the story of Skye who becomes Finn and transitions from female to male.

F2m prompted heart-felt messages of thanks from teenagers facing gender challenges of their own, but it also provoked a hostile reaction from other places.

F2m: the boy within was banned from a library in North Queensland on the day Hazel Edwards was awarded her OAM. Elsewhere, it was thrown in the bin by a teacher who described it as ‘rubbish,’ and left off library lists because of concerns over the sensitive subject matter.

But for Hazel Edwards and Ryan Edwards the story was too important to allow it to be smothered by fear. So, they have extended their project. Ftm: the boy within is now the subject of a documentary and a YouTube clip which highlight the importance of fiction in dealing with sensitive personal issues.

Hazel Edwards chats with me today, about f2m: the boy within, the documentary and diversity.

You are best known for your delightful picture books featuring a cake-eating hippo. What prompted you to write about gender transitioning?

f2mDocumentary-Image-PAGEFtm means female to male transitioning. But our title is f2m, like adolescent texting and also indicates our collaboration. Co-author Ryan is a family friend, whom I’d known since he was 11, and presenting as a girl. I knew he was transitioning from female to male, and admired his courage. A great collaboration. It would have taken me years to research what he already knew. Plus he’d kept a medical diary, and although the f2m: the boy within is fiction, NOT an autobiography, the medical sequences are accurate.

We chose YA novel format because 17-ish is time for photo ID for drivers licence and when most teens are seeking their identity. Ford Street Publishing who specialise in edgy YA, was willing to support our risky project. Brave.

It was short-listed by the internationally prestigious White Ravens best YA fiction 2011.

Can you explain a little about this collaboration?

This project has taken more work than any of my other books, and is probably the most significant.

Since Ryan is New Zealand based and I’m in Melbourne, we wrote on Skype across a year and more than 30 drafts – a few embarrassing mistypings on my part with Skye (the character) and Skype (the process).

Ryan created the book trailer, and has adapted the doco length to go up on YouTube. He also organized the NZ book launch with me present only on webcam on the wall of the Wellington Unity Bookshop.

Initially print published, the e-book is now important for easy access. And we hope it will be translated into other languages and new media.

This was a first: the subject of transitioning gender in a Young Adult novel, co-written by an actual ftm (female to male) author.

Skye transitions to Finn with the help of bemused friends and family, punk music and a Gran who understands because she had a sibling facing similar challenges. Being able to use fiction to initiate discussion has been helpful for families and for gender diversity groups, because ‘it’s the kind of novel you can give to a parent too.’

“Tick the box. M or F. Male or Female are the only options ‘ordinary’ people know about. M for Male. F for Female. You’re one or the other. But what if you’re not? Like me. As I’m finding out.”

What reaction did f2m: the boy within get?

f2mMixed. We’ve had fantastic fan mail, fan art and much gratitude from diverse families who use it as a discussion starter. The subject is controversial, but not our handling of it. Ryan has had poignant e-mails from readers reassured that they are not the only ones, and grateful older readers who wished the book had been available earlier. ‘Might have saved lives and anguish.’

Although widely and positively reviewed, it’s often left off reading lists by apprehensive librarians who fear objections from minorities. Placed on the banned shelf in a public library in north Queensland, the same day I was awarded an OAM for Literature at Government House (not connected), but approved by groups like the Safe Schools Coalition Victoria and word-of-mouth recommendations. It was also short-listed by the internationally prestigious White Ravens best YA fiction 2011. The problem is that if the book is not available, it can’t be read or found.

Were you surprised by the reaction?

No, we’d expected some negative comments. Our greatest surprise was from those who had NOT read the book, yet refused to put it into their libraries or allow others to read it. We thought the literary collaboration between a heterosexual grandmother and an ftm would reassure. It did. We did lots of radio, including ABC Life Matters, which is indexed as a podcast.

Can you tell us about the documentary on reactions to the gender-transitioning subject in f2m: the boy within

Psychologist Meredith Fuller, a co-director of Kailash Studios offered to interview both co-authors as a documentary. It took a year to get us all together to film on the one day. Director Brian Walsh who is also a psychologist, produced the documentary.

The documentary attempts to answer, via interviewing the co-authors the creativity of coping successfully with diversity. Especially when others may fear change or diversity.It has already been screened at festivals such as Shepparton’s Out in the Open, Melbourne’s Midsumma and the international 2014 AIDs conference.

How important is fiction for tackling difficult issues, especially for adolescents?

Vital. YA fiction offers an opportunity to see from the viewpoint of that character for the length of the story and beyond. If you are in circumstances like that character, it reassures you are not the only one. And in the case of transitioning gender, a subject about which there is little information for outsiders, it educates readers, via compassion. It’s hard enough finding your identity as a mainstream adolescent, but the complication of feeling you are in the wrong kind of body, is overwhelming. And if ignorant others shun you, that makes things worse.

Our book has prevented suicides. But a novel can’t just be propaganda, it must be a story in its own right. We avoided ‘sensationalising’ which is what often happens with trans gender in media. Within the novel, we have a range of family and friends, humour and punk music and even a bullying scene.

f2m: the boy withinWhat’s next for you?

Finishing my memoir: Let Hippos Eat Cake: Being a Children’s Author or Not?

Thanks for visiting, Hazel, and good luck with f2m and finishing your memoir.

Author websites:

http://www.hazeledwards.com

http://ryanscottkennedy.com

Julie Fison writes for children and young adults. Her books include the Hazard River series for young readers, Choose Your Own Ever After, a pick-a-path series that lets the reader decide how the story goes, and Counterfeit Love for young adults.

 

 

Talking about crime with Sue Bursztynski

I’m a firm believer in the old adage that “the truth is stranger than fiction”. In fact, I’ve living proof. Not too long ago I was swimming at Four Mile Beach in North Queensland when a garfish, not much bigger than my middle finger, jumped out of the water and speared me in the ear. I needed a three- hour operation to remove the spear! While I was in hospital, my son fell out of a tree and broke his wrist. I couldn’t make that stuff up!

Sue BursztynskiChildren’s author, Sue Bursztynski clearly has an eye for bizarre true stories, too. In her book, Crime Time, she’s unearthed the antics of Australia’s weirdest criminals – from the poison toting granny to the robbers who wore name tags. There are more than a hundred crime stories in the book, all packaged up for children.

Sue joins me today to share an insight into writing non-fiction.

JF: What prompted you to delve into Australia’s most notorious characters?

SB: I was commissioned to write a companion volume to Meredith Costain’s book Fifty Famous Australians, as Fifty Infamous Australians. I said, “Okay, but that title has to go! Kids will think it’s for helping with their homework.” As it happened, I’d just done a piece on forensics for the NSW School Magazine, which covered everything from Otzi the Ice Man (a 5000 year old murder victim) to the murderer who was caught because of some white cat hairs, and I was absolutely thrilled to be able to continue the crime theme. And there’s an embarrassment of riches in Australia’s crime history.

JF: Can you share a couple of the more unusual stories that you unearthed?

SB: One I liked was the story of the con man Murray Beresford Roberts, who actually wrote a book about his crimes! Out of print, but I found a copy online. He tells of the time when he was in India and managed to con a jeweller into giving him a diamond tiara, which he broke up and swallowed. Then he took a plane to England, where he went to the toilet to expel the gems, cleaned them up and sold them.

I had been asked to write something about Tony Mokbel, who was in the news at the time. I couldn’t think of anything about him that would entertain children, but I was having a coffee one day and reading the papers, when I found a double page spread about his bizarre escape from Australia and knew I had my story.

Crime TimeJF: How much time did you spend researching the book?

SB: I spent about three months reading and reading, choosing and drafting. I have a full time day job, but I was on long service leave when I was commissioned, so I could go to the library for books and read newspapers both print and online. The editing continued after that, of course, and I went back to research some more. I had fifty main stories and was asked to also add some “Did You Knows”. There must be around a hundred stories, long and short, in the book, and I researched them all thoroughly. I wouldn’t write a chapter unless I’d read a bare minimum of two sources, usually more, because of potential bias. That takes time – and when my leave was over I’d have to go back to work. So it was an intense three months.

JF: Did you ever find yourself so disturbed by the subject matter that you questioned the project?

SB: Sometimes I did feel queasy, though never to the extent of wanting to pack it in. My poor editor, Saralinda Turner, was a lot more stressed than I was, after I’d turned in several chapters about serial killers, and she asked if there was a lot more of this stuff coming, but she bravely kept going, bless her. I asked my friends to suggest crimes that weren’t serial killing. Kerry Greenwood suggested the story of the murderer who got his idea from a campfire discussion with the novelist Arthur Upfield. She said it was every crime writer’s nightmare. There was a murder, but it was so over the top, I couldn’t resist going off and researching it. And my friend Chris Wheat (author of the YA novel Screwloose) told me about the April Fool’s Day attempted robbery at the Cuckoo restaurant at Olinda, where a couple of klutzy robbers escaped with a bag of stale bread rolls and one of them was accidentally shot in the backside. I have that chapter up on my blog, if any of your readers want to look at it. There were other quirky crime stories in the book, so that helped keep it balance.

JF: How did you convert the information into a book suitable for children?

SB: I had to tread carefully. On the one hand, kids simply love gruesome tales. On the other hand, you do want parents and libraries to buy it – and you want the kids to say, “Oh, brilliant!” and not to get nightmares. There were things I had to leave out – but not enough to lose my readers’ interest. This isn’t a book to help with homework. It’s reading for enjoyment. I chose a lot of quirky stories, especially for my “Did You Know?” sections. In the Ned Kelly chapter I added a “Did You Know?” about a Kelly brother who lived a quiet, law-abiding life and died in about the 1940s. I wrote about the Dumb And Dumber robbers, who kept on their name tags while committing a robbery and flashed their staff passes to use transport after. The kids to whom I read this, love it. One day, at a bookshop event, I found myself surrounded by a bunch of children about five or six years old and simply couldn’t read to them from the book, so I told them, instead, about the “very naughty nana” who poisoned her family (“YOUR nana wouldn’t do that!”). That got a lot of giggles and some older siblings who were listening bought the book.

JF: Tell us about some of your other work?

SB: For many years, I wrote fiction and non-fiction for small-press science fiction magazines before I won the Mary Grant Bruce Award for children’s literature and realised that what I enjoyed most was writing for young people. I have written ten books, one of which, Potions to Pulsars: Women doing science, was a Notable Book in the Children’s Book Council Awards. Another, Starwalkers: Explorers of the Unknown, was nominated for the NSW Premier’s History Award.

When not writing, I work in a school in Melbourne’s western suburbs. I enjoy reading, music, handcraft and old science fiction movies. My current books are Crime Time and Wolfborn. 

JF: What’s next for you?

SB: Mostly short fiction, possibly including a story for the next Ford Street anthology – that will require research too, because I’ve been asked for historical fiction. I have a story coming up in the Christmas Press anthology, Once Upon A Christmas, and I’m working, very slowly, on a prequel to my novel Wolfborn. There’s not much market for non-fiction in the trade publishing industry, alas, and it’s very hard to get into the education industry these days, as they tend to have stables of regular writers. So it’s fiction for now.

JF: Thank you for joining me at Boomerang Books, Sue. All the best with Crime Time.

Susanne Gervay’s Elephants Have Wings

susanne-gervay-2010Susanne Gervay is an award-winning author, speaker, recipient of the Order of Australia and all-round dynamo. She rushed into my life last year at the Central Queensland Literary Festival. I had the pleasure of sharing an apartment, and lots of stories with Susanne during our week-long visit to schools in Rockhampton and Emerald. Her energy was infectious whether we were visiting schools, snorkelling at Great Keppel Island or discussing stories.

Today she joins me to chat about her beautiful new picture book, Elephants Have Wings, which explores the humanity in all of us. The book is illustrated by award-winning illustrator, Anna Pignataro, who has created more than fifty books for children. 

JF: Congratulations on your new picture book. Tell us about the inspiration for Elephants Have Wings?

Elephants Have WingsSG: Inspired by my journey to India and South East Asia where I spoke in Delhi, Goa and Singapore, I returned imbued with the cultures and spirituality of India and Asia. I experienced the Baha’i Temple in Delhi where I was part of a service under the open-air lotus roof of the temple. Five young people read from their holy books from five different faiths.

I also became aware of mystical stories. One was the parable of the blind men and the elephant which is part of Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sufism. Another was in Hindu mythology, that during the monsoon rains which refresh the earth, the clouds are regarded as the wings of elephants.

Young people today are overwhelmed with media reports of terrorism and religious conflict, and it is time to reach out and create a safer world for our kids. Elephants Have Wings came out of this. It would be a gentle, nurturing picture book celebrating family, inter-generational story, beliefs in a world that is both beautiful and threatened, opening discussions of harmony, inclusion and peace.

As the daughter of refugees, action for inclusion and peace are personal. I was privileged that Anna Pignataro, also the daughter of refugees, would go with me on this journey.

JF: This is your third picture book. What appeals to you about this type of writing?

SG: I used to write poetry as a child and also adult. Writing picture books is like a return to this old love. An idea grabs my mind and heart, and with careful words laden with meaning, character and narrative, I use this spare form of writing to create story.

Gracie and JoshHowever the real gift of writing picture books is working with a talented illustrator. Anna Pignataro and also Serena Geddes (illustrator for Gracie and Josh) bring their narrative story to my words, making the picture book richer, expanding and extending ideas, bringing in their own narrative as well.

JF: It’s your second book with illustrator Anna Pignataro, can you give us an insight into that relationship?

Anna Pignataro and I collaborated closely on both Ships in the Field and Elephants Have Wings. Both are very complex books thematically. Ships in the Field is about a refugee family finding home, while Elephant Have Wings is the search for truth and harmony.

We discuss every aspect from ideas, design, symbolism, colour, characters, without constraining each other’s creative style. It is a wonderful collaboration.

JF: Apart from being an immensely successful writer, you are also heavily involved with literacy organisations and foundations. What is the reason for this?

SG: So much of what I write and do are driven by my refugee background. I deeply understand disempowerment. Without literacy there is little hope of a future. I am very proud to be a Writer Ambassador for Room to Read which has reached more than 9 million children in the developing world with literacy. My 4th and final I AM JACK book – called BEING JACK partnered with Room to Read to advocate for literacy for all children. I am also proud to be a Role Model for Books in Homes which takes books to indigenous and disadvantaged Australian children.

Being JackJF: Most of your work has a deeply personal side. Do you ever worry about sharing too much of yourself?

SG: I have great respect for young people who feel so much but have little experience or power to deal with life’s challenges. When I inform my books from personal experience, I risk criticism. That hurts sometimes. However, young people sense truth in what I write, and they find friends in my books, their own answers and pathways forward. They are worth the risk.

JF: What’s next for you? I know you’ve been working on a film script. Can you give us any details?

SG: I have contracted with the wonderful TV producer who did ‘Round the Twist’ and Animalia’. However that will take several years to eventuate.

However the adaptation of my I AM JACK into a play by Monkey Baa Theatre has been extraordinary, touring across Australia and the USA since 2008. There will be another Australia wide tour in 2015 and a USA tour. I was on part of the USA tour this year which was hugely successful and a great experience where I spoke to many thousands of kids and teachers about I AM JACK, did a lot of media and hung out with the Monkey Baa theatre team.

My new project is a children’s series called The Tales of Harry at The Hughenden Hotel. Since my children grew up in The Hughenden and I have spent so much of my life here, there are so many funny, sad, moving stories to explore.

JF: Thanks for visiting, Susanne, and good luck with Elephants Have Wings.  The Central Queensland Literary Festival crew

www.sgervay.com

www.sgervay.com.com/blog

In Rockhampton: Michael Gerard Bauer, Elaine Ouston, Krista Bell, Julie Fison, Meredith Costain, Judith Rossell, Royce Bond, Susanne Gervay, Paul Collins and Kevin Burgemeestre. 

Julie Fison writes for children and young adults. Her books include the Hazard River series for young readers, Choose Your Own Ever After, a pick-a-path series that lets the reader decide how the story goes, and Counterfeit Love for young adults.

 

 

 

A visit from Dianne Bates

When Counterfeit Love, my latest book for young adults, came out this year, I have to admit to suffering a little fatigue. I’d had eleven books published in four years, and was feeling like I’d just finished an ultra marathon. But when I look around at my fellow children’s authors, I realise I’m just ambling along.

dianne-batesToday I welcome an author who has more than 120 titles to her name. Dianne Bates has a flair for humour, but has delved into some very disturbing topics in her young adult fiction. Bates has drawn from personal experience in her work, including her latest book – The Girl in the Basement – which tells the story of a girl abducted and held in a basement, awaiting her fate.

Here, she answers some questions about her work.

You’ve written more than a hundred books, across lots of topics, but your YA books seem to focus on very dark themes – abandonment, self-harm and kidnap. Why is that?

Most of my fiction books for younger readers are humorous! I guess the darker issues are something that I feel suit teens who are transitioning into the adult world and so often suffer much angst. During my adolescent years I knew abandonment and the feeling of being trapped, also I self-harmed. It’s said that one should write about what one knows, so I often draw on my life experiences when I write social-realism (which is most of the time).

Can you explain the inspiration for your latest book – The Girl in the Basement?

The Girl in the BasementAs a child I lived in a household of domestic violence and was constantly in fear of what might happen next, so I could well relate to the experiences of a teenage girl who is trapped physically and psychologically. I also had first-hand experience of an unpredictable man in my life so you could say I didn’t need to do much research but could draw on my childhood memories.

I read a lot of crime fiction and real-life crime books which I found helpful in creating the life and mind of a criminal (the book is told from two points of view). In researching specifically for The Girl in the Basement (Morris Publishing Australia), I read about the experiences of young, abducted women who managed to flee their abusers. In particular, Sabine Dardenne’s whose book, I Choose to Live, about her 80 days in captivity, gave me a real insight into the experience and mindset of being kidnapped. Interestingly, the same week that the women were released from years of captivity in the house in Cleveland Ohio was the same week that The Girl in the Basement was released by Morris Publishing Australia.

What is the appeal of writing for young adults?

Many books for young adults published more recently have been fantasy and/or sci-fi, and are about dark themes such as vampires, dystopian societies and so on. As a reader I am more interested in the world as it is now so I don’t bother with these genres. I think there are many young adults who want to read about how fictional characters negotiate the kinds of problems they are faced with in their lives. Reading social-realism is not just living vicariously, it’s also about seeing solutions and seeing that there can be hope when life seems grim and nobody is listening. My other YA novels are The Last Refuge (Hodder Headline) about domestic violence victims and Crossing the Line (Ford Street Publishing) about a girl who is in care and who becomes obsessed with her psychiatrist. I suffer from bipolar so have experience of being in psych wards (nowadays I’m sane because I’m medicated).

How do you avoid covering old ground when you have written so many books?

Crossing the lineI rarely cover old ground! I have been writing and getting published for over 30 years and I’ve never run out of ideas. I don’t just write novels for younger children and teenagers: I also write non-fiction (including a few textbooks), joke books, poetry and verse anthologies, plays, articles, short stories, even an (unpublished) adult novel. My husband (YA award-winning author Bill Condon) and I make a living from full-time writing and have done so for years. Both of us write a 40-hour week each. Over the course of a year I submit upwards of 100 manuscripts to publishers (with a success rate of 15 to 20%).

What are you working on right now?

Lately I have been writing novels for young readers aged 8 to 10 years. The latest is A Game of Keeps (Celapene Press) about a foster child and I’ve just sold two other junior books, one to a small publisher, another to a major publisher. Currently I have a few projects. I’ve just had a junior novel To the Moon and Back assessed by a professional freelancer who has suggested many ways to improve the text, so that’s my writing project.

I am also in the process of proof-reading A Beginner’s Guide to Better English (Five Senses Education) to be published later this year. This week I have resumed editorship of Buzz Words (All the Buzz About Children’s Books)  which I founded in 2006; it’s a fortnightly online magazine for people in the children’s book industry. At the moment I am doing a lot of admin work with the generous help of Vicki Stanton who has done a sterling job at the editing helm for a few years while I took a break. There are hundreds of subscribers, so I am wrangling my computer skills to try to implement everything. I am also finding new content for the first issue I put out on 15 October. If anyone wants a free sample, they can contact me at Buzz Words. 

Thanks to Dianne Bates for giving us an insight into her work.

Visit again soon for more interviews, book news and reviews. Happy reading until then.

Julie Fison

 

 

The Call of the Wild

Some things demand to be written about. For me, it’s orangutans. I first encountered them twenty years ago. I was holidaying on the island of Borneo and came across a sanctuary where young orphaned orangutans were being returned to the wild. The Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre is now a well-organised stop on the tourist trail, but at the time, visitors could wander unrestricted into the jungle as rangers took food for the young orphans. When the orangutans heard the sound of a ranger they would appear out of nowhere and descend to the ground to grab a piece of fruit from the ranger’s bucket.

The Call of the Wild It was an incredible experience, made all the more special because we were able to get so close to the orangutans. One cheeky chappie stole a friend’s scarf from her neck, played with it for a bit and then tossed it aside. A little while later, he came down from his treetop vantage point, unzipped a girl’s money belt, started pulling out notes and eating them. Every time she pulled his hand from her money belt, he used a foot to help himself to more cash.

As we were leaving the sanctuary the same orangutan was sitting on the boardwalk, like he was planning to wave us farewell. But that’s not what he had in mind. As I walked past, he grabbed my hand. I tried to pull it free, but he was way stronger than me. I was stuck. With no sign of the ranger, I had to bribe the orangutan to let me go, handing over a silver pen to secure my free passage.

The orangutans really got to me and I’ve been trying to find a way to include them in a story ever since. Now I have!

The Call of the Wild is my newest Choose Your Own Ever After story for tweens. In this pick-a-path story, nature-loving Phoebe has to choose between going to a super-cool party with her friends or helping out at a save-the-orangutan fundraiser.

The story is light and fun, but the facts behind it are serious. Orangutans are rapidly losing their habitats in Asia due to widespread palm oil cultivation, logging and fires. At the current rate orangutans will be extinct in the wild in the next ten years in Sumatra, and soon after in Borneo. What a tragedy – one that some hard-working charities are fighting to avert. Will they win or will they lose?

I wish I could make a choice on that one.

Feel free to visit my website or you can follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Happy reading,

Julie Fison

 

All the Birds, Singing

Evie’s Wyld’s brooding novel, All the Birds, Singing is hard to let go of. A damp menace clings to the story from the very first line and draws the reader in as the main character Jake Whyte attempts to discover who or what is mutilating her sheep. At the same time we are sucked backwards to the Australian outback, to uncover Jake’s past and understand why she is living on an isolated British island – her only companion: a dog named Dog.

All the birds singingWyld’s book recently won the Miles Franklin award, beating Tim Winton’s Eyrie, Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, and others, with its evocative prose. “Spare, but pitch perfect,” was how the judging panel described Wyld’s writing – “visceral and powerfully measured in tone.” But it’s the structure of All the Birds, Singing that also has me intrigued.

Wyld uses alternating chapters to move the story forwards on the windswept farm and backwards through the outback. The tense of the writing also alternates, with Wyld using the present tense for the flashbacks and the past tense for the rest of the story. The book leaves great gaps in the narrative, but compels the reader to find the source of Jake’s damaged emotional and physical state as well as the identity of the sheep killer.

Wyld apparently had intended to keep the narrative simple when she started this story, but found barriers were thrown up by her choice of writing in first person. She had to find a way to solve them. After writing 50,000 words she decided that reversing the chronology of Jake’s past was a better was of telling the story.

“I was quite reluctant to do it,” she says in an interview with the BBC. “It ended up being a maths problem. I had to make endless charts and work out where I was. I did confuse myself a lot, writing it.”

Wyld builds tension with the flashbacks that take us deeper into Jake’s past, and ultimately to the decision that changed everything. We are fed uncensored snapshots of an ugly side of Australia – in outback towns, on a fly-blown sheep property and above a greasy take-away shop, meeting a cast of troubled characters along the way. These scenes are contrasted with the boggy sheep farm where Jake has gone to escape her past. But even here she’s haunted by some kind of beast.

A maths problem has never been so darkly engaging.

Feel free to visit my website or you can follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Hong Kong for beginners

From the outside Hong Kong is a shimmering enclave of mirrored high-rise towers, a former British outpost and a gateway to China – the ultimate fusion of East and West. But beyond the swanky shopping malls and five-star hotels, the city is a heady mix of contradictions – of urban cacophony and tranquil country parks, of staggering wealth and grinding poverty, a city that worships money but still respects tradition, an exotic place that has been inspiring writers for decades.

Countefeit Love by Julie FisonAmong the many books to put Hong Kong at centre stage are James Clavell’s Asian sagas: Tai-Pan and Noble House and John le Carré’s thriller The Honourable Schoolboy. Travel writer Jan Morris explored the city’s complex past and future in Hong Kong, a manual for Hong Kong newbies. Other celebrated novels set in the city include Han Suyin’s post-war love story – A Many-Splendoured Thing, John Lancaster’s epic, Fragrant Harbour, and Janice Y K Lee’s sumptuous historical novel, The Piano Teacher.

My new title for young adults is one of the latest novels to use Hong Kong’s vibrant skyline as its backdrop. Counterfeit Love is a thoroughly contemporary tale of a young television reporter who is trying to make a name for herself in Hong Kong. Lucy Yang’s skills and character are tested as she tries to get to the bottom of a big story. And when the gorgeous, but mysterious, Byron Lloyd starts turning up in unexpected places, she wonders if her perfect man is a sinister part of the story she’s chasing.

Counterfeit Love is a cocktail of ambition, intrigue and romance, and was inspired by my years as a news reporter with a Hong Kong television station. The story is definitely not autobiographical, but in writing it, I drew on my knowledge of Hong Kong, my experience in a newsroom and my memories of starting out in a city that was totally alien to me.

Noble HouseI spent five crazy years in Hong Kong and still vividly recall so much about it – the chaotic newsroom, the crowded MTR, the smell of frying garlic and the pong of fermented bean curd, the white-knuckle ride into the old Kai Tak airport, junk trips to the outlying islands and the sampan ride home at the end of a long night in the office. In my neighbourhood, old Hakka ladies shelled prawns in the sun, while young professionals belted out love songs on their karaoke machines. I had a colleague who often rode home from a night club on the roof of a taxi, just because he could, and a British friend who circled the Hongkong Bank anti clockwise twice every morning before going to work – on the advice of a feng shui master. He still endured his share of bad luck, but was never game to change the habit in case his fortune worsened.

Hong Kong was many things to me, but it was never boring!

Thanks for joining me for my first Boomerang Books Blog post. I will be returning regularly with more bookish news. In the meantime you can visit my website here or you can follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

 

Happy reading,

Julie.