Glorious Gift Books

annualExceptional children’s gift books for Christmas this year include Annual, edited by Kate De Goldi and Susan Paris (Gecko Press). It’s a treasure book in the vein of an old-style yearly annual, here packaged in the highest quality hardback form as a sumptuous possible Christmas present and absorbing holiday read.

The editors have excelled in their commissioned works, which range from short stories to non-fiction, poems, comics, art pieces, a song with sheet music included (Always on Your Phone) and activities such as a board game called Naked Grandmother and This is not a bottle – instructions on how to make a minaret, a spaceship or a hound with a bottle.

Contributors include Bernard Beckett, Barbara Else and Steve Braunias who has written a satire about various celebrities turning up to work at your house. Lorde and Taylor Swift turn up to wash the dishes but not much work actually takes place.

classicClassic Nursery Rhymes (Bloomsbury) is for younger children and showcases exquisite artwork by Dorothy M. Wheeler, who illustrated Enid Blyton’s books. Each nursery rhyme is generously illustrated with a full-page colour picture inside an elaborately sketched black and white border, which spills over to surround the printed rhyme on the opposite page.

There are too many favourite rhymes to name but they include Hickory, Dickory Dock and Jack and Jill as well as lesser-known gems such as A Frog He Would A-Wooing Go and Cock-A-Doodle-Doo. Little Jack Horner is ideal to read for Christmas.

The sheet music is provided for a number of the rhymes such as Polly Put the Kettle On and Baa, Baa! Black Sheep.

Studies show that children who know nursery rhymes have a higher success rate in early literacy. Mem Fox has also been sharing this belief: ‘If a borrowed story book or nursery-rhyme book becomes favourite, do your utmost to purchase it for your child. Children who have lived in book-filled homes prior to going to school are known to be scholastically advantaged for the rest of their lives. And children who have memorised eight nursery rhymes by the age of three, so I have been told, are always the best readers by the age of eight.’ (quote from Mem Fox’s website)

oddThere is a foreword in Classic Nursery Rhymes by Chris Riddell, who has also been busy illustrating a reissue of Neil Gaiman’s interpretation of a Norse myth, Odd and the Frost Giants (Bloomsbury). This is a very classy publication, extravagantly produced with illustrations throughout, touches of silver ink and cut-away icicles on the front cover. It is sophisticated, creative writing for older primary or gifted younger readers.

It is always worth exposing young readers to folktales, whether in original or reinterpreted form. Here a Viking boy with the unusual name of Odd suffers a terrible injury to his foot and encounters beasts in the woods that are actually Norse gods. As well as the often-argumentative male gods we also meet that most lovely and capable goddess, Freya.

Dinosaurs and Cheeky Animals in Australia

dinosaursImagine if dinosaurs lived today in Australia. As we know, dinosaurs did live in Australia, some on the Kimberley coast of northwest Australia, and their footprints are still visible there. In Return of the Dinosaurs (Magabala Books) Nyiyaparli and Yindijibarndi descendant Bronwyn Houston wonders what it would be like if dinosaurs roamed around Broome today.

As a girl the author-illustrator played at the beach with her brother and found footprints that turned out to be those of sauropods. In this picture book, she has created the surrounds of Broome in vibrant, inviting illustrations. Her characters – human and dinosaur – visit the rocks at high tide, play with humpback whales, meet their prehistoric crocodile cousins in the mangroves, feast on salmon, hunt for bush tucker, play at Cable Beach and enjoy the outdoor movie screen at Sun Pictures.

Brachiosaurus, Ceratosaurus, Megalosauropus, Broomensis, Parasaurolophus and Stegosaurus are included in the narrative and humans are sometimes shown in the illustrations to provide scale. Young readers will find this well conceived and executed book captivating.

animals_in_my_garden_high_res_Bronwyn Houston’s other new book is a board book for very young children, Animals in My Garden (Magabala Books). It is a simple counting book, “1 one snake … 2 two kookaburras … 3 three lizards” and so on up to “10 ten mosquitoes”. Each numeral and accompanying creature is showcased on one page.

The animals can be found in Australian backyards and the illustrations are extremely appealing: bright, textured and inviting children into nature.

cheekyAnother new Magabala Books’ publication for young readers is a second board book, Cheeky Animals by Shane Morgan. This book is inspired by Shane Morgan’s book Look and See, which was first published in 1999 and is still in print. This is testament to the synergy between the clear, often ochre-coloured illustrations and the simple appealing written text, “Look at the lizard, he’s up in the tree. See the big lizard. He’s looking down at me … Look at the turtle walking so slow. See the turtle, he stood on my toe.”

Shane Morgan is a descendant of the Yorta Yorta peoples of Victoria. Cheeky Animals’ appeal as a board book for the very young culminates in its ‘bedtime’ ending, “Look at the dingo howling with might. See the dingo, he’s saying goodnight.”

 

boySome of my other favourite picture books published by Broome-based Indigenous publisher, Magabala Books are Once There Was a Boy by Dub Leffler (simply beautiful), Mad Magpie by Gregg Dreise and Our World Bardi Jaawi by One Arm Point Remote Community School.

 

A Monster Calls

monsterA Monster Calls (Walker Books) is a contemporary classic, a work of art. It has had a poignant, yet illustrious history. Written by Patrick Ness from an idea by Siobhan Dowd and illustrated by Jim Kay, it is now available in a beautiful ‘Special Collector’s Edition’ with additional interviews about the upcoming movie by actors Liam Neeson, Sigourney Weaver and Felicity Jones. The book has won both the CILIP Carnegie Medal and the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal.

As Patrick Ness states in his Author’s Note, Siobhan Dowd “had the characters, a premise, and a beginning. What she didn’t have, unfortunately, was time.” He has refrained from copying her style and has made the story uniquely his own.

Thirteen-year-old Conor is suffering nightmares and always wakes at 12.07. A voice calls him, the voice of a monster yew tree in the nearby graveyard. The monster moves from its roots to fill the space outside Conor’s house and follow him. At first Conor thinks that the monster is a dream but it leaves poisonous yew berries on his floor. It says that Conor has called it.

The descriptions of the monster hint at its mighty power rather than reduce its mystery by portraying it literally. The tree tells three stories and Conor must tell the fourth, the story of not just any truth but his own truth; the thing of which he’s most afraid. Conor comes to realise that, “Stories are the wildest things of all … Stories chase and bite and hunt.” monster-novel

The monster’s First Tale is about a king who remarries and whose new wife wants to keep the kingdom but is driven away by the prince. The Second Tale is about an Apothecary who punishes a parson for his lack of integrity and selfishness. The Third Tale is about invisibility.

Conor’s mother is suffering intensely during her current round of chemo treatment for cancer. He is hopeful of her recovery but the situation becomes so difficult that his grandmother comes to stay. Conor doesn’t get on with her, particularly when she suggests that he will be going to live with her. She’s not the kind, cuddly stereotypical grandma. Things are obviously becoming dire because his father returns temporarily from his new family in America.

At school Conor is a target for bully Harry and the destruction Conor thinks that he wreaks in his dreams also starts happening in reality.

Jim Kay’s black and white illustrations are sophisticated and allusive. Using spiky lines and textures, amorphous shapes and layers, they intimate and suggest fear, grief and nightmare. ness

The written text is also available as a novel.

As well as this exceptional book, it is worth seeking out other works by Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd, particularly the ‘Chaos Walking’ trilogy and The Rest of Us Just Live Here by the former and A Swift Pure Cry, The London Eye Mystery and Bog Child by the latter.

Who are The Good People?

Hannah Kent is a master of atmosphere and of extracting her characters’ souls. Her new novel The Good People (Picador, Pan Macmillan Australia) is set in 1825, in a dark and dank Irish valley where, “Mushrooms scalloped out from rotting wood in the undergrowth. The smell of damp soil was everywhere”. The community has a peasant culture of simple rituals governed by the seasons, alliances and health. The effects of petty, and more serious, quarrels are balanced by small daily kindnesses.

good-peopleCould The Good People be shadowing the author’s Burial Rites as the second in a possible trilogy based on true stories about women living in wretched poverty whose fates are controlled by powerful men and others?

In The Good People, Nóra’s husband Martin has died inexplicably at the crossroads. The tale opens with his wake. Nance Roche comes to keen and wail for Martin. She is a “handy woman”, the gatekeeper of the thresholds between the known and unknown who lives in an isolated mossy cabin dug into the mud. She keeps it as clean as she is able, cares for her goat and collects healing herbs. She has inherited “the knowledge” of the Good People, fairy knowledge that cures people from the folk whose lights are seen near the whitehorn trees by Piper’s Grove.

With both her husband and daughter Johanna dead, Nóra is left alone with Micheál, an ill-formed child who can’t speak or walk and continually soils himself. She employs red-haired Mary Clifford from the north to help her care for Micheál. The gossips believe that someone with red hair has the evil eye. Nóra’s daughter also had red hair and some insist she was “swept”, taken by the Good People.

Mary cares for Micheál selflessly but Nóra and Nance believe he is a changeling, a fairy child who has been exchanged for a human child, bringing bad luck on the village. They resolve to “put the fairy out of him”, taking him to be dunked in the river three times.

Superstition escalates when a cow is found dead, chickens are left headless and an egg is filled with blood. Nance is accused of making piseóg, curses, and of poisoning people with her treatments of “bittersweet” and foxglove. And yet she describes the dying year as, “The night was falling holy, as though the glory of God was in the changing of the light”.

Former priest Father O’Reilly protected Nance but the new priest Father Healy preaches against her.

burial-ritesWhose viewpoint is right? Hannah Kent makes us believe in the veracity of the superstitious Nance and Nóra because she has plunged us into their lives and thoughts. But if we extricate ourselves from their powerfully constructed beliefs and peer through the eyes of their opponents, could the latters’ views be equally valid? One of the author’s gifts is to coax us into relinquishing our, perhaps more reasoned, views and to accept those of her protagonists.

The Good People of the title are alluded to but never seen. But are they more or less integral to the story than the human good people we meet: kind neighbour Peg O’Shea and steadfast Peter, as well as the multifaceted major characters? Goodness, grief, mercy and truth are wound with verisimilitude into The Good People.

The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee

spellingWriting an engaging story about a spelling bee could be a daunting task but Deborah Abela has done an excellent job in The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee (Random House Australia). India Wimple lives in the country town of Yungabilla and is able to spell all the words on the televised Spelling Bee. Her family would love her to participate in the competition but she has a problem with nerves, as demonstrated by her mortifying performance in the school play when she had the lead role in Matilda.

Her father tells stories about Ingenious India and Brave Boo but real-life India feels nothing like her brilliant fictitious counterpart with her daring plans and exceptional thinking.

The characters, especially the members of India’s family and community, are warm and kind and Summer Millicent Ernestine Beauregard-Champion, India’s show-off rival at the Spelling Bee, has a reason for her nastiness, which India uncovers. Other well-integrated issues include the effects of drought on rural and small town dwellers, the effect of childhood illness on the whole family and the role of a live-in grandparent. teresa

The book is perfectly paced: India learns to understand and deal with her fears and makes a new friend, Rajish; and the storyline has well crafted peaks, such as the way both the family and the community create practice opportunities for India and the increasingly high-pressured rounds of the competition, culminating in the final of the Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee at the Sydney Opera House. The foreshadowing about Boo’s asthma also ramps up the tension.

And the book is funny as well! India’s father is often paid for his handyman jobs in colourful hand-me-down clothes and Nana Flo brazenly appropriates free food. The town’s rendition of the Spelling Bee is unexpected and hilarious.

Teachers could no doubt adapt some of the book’s content into their classes in a fun, immersive way for children to learn interesting words, particularly by using the competition element along with some of the actual spelling words. Each chapter also begins with a spelling word that relates to India’s experiences (such as endeavour, perspicacious, trepidation, fortuitous, skulduggery), its meaning and how it’s used in a sentence.

jasperDeb Abela has written quite a backlist of books for children such as Teresa: A New Australian and the ‘Max Remy Superspy’ and ‘Jasper Zammit’ series, but I think The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee is her best yet.

This Australian novel for children will be a great Christmas present and holiday read for girls and boys.

Clade, still being shortlisted for awards …

I have been keen to read James Bradley’s Clade since hearing about it pre-publication. James Bradley has come through the ranks of exciting Australian authors-to-watch after great responses to his novels Wrack and The Resurrectionist. I adored his novella Beauty’s Sister, a memorable retelling of Rapunzel.

cladeHis most recent novel, the dystopia Clade, is still being nominated for awards, most recently the 2016 Western Australian Premier’s Award for Fiction. It has also been shortlisted for the Christina Stead Award for Fiction  at the 2016 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards; the 2016 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards Prize for Fiction; Australia’s oldest literary award, the ALG Gold Medal; and the Aurealis Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.

The cover with its image of bees in a surreal hexagon sets the tone for a slightly futuristic setting where bees are at risk (as they are in many places already). Climate change has caused disasters such as blizzards and flooding, leading to the disappearance of birds, crop failures, power cuts and overcrowded hospitals.

Adam and Ellie become a couple and eventually give birth to Summer. Ellie and Summer spend fractious times with Maddie, Ellie’s stepmother at Maddie’s beach house. This setting also epitomises the natural world.

beautyThe author employs time-shifts, moving between Summer as a young girl, a teen who sneaks into houses and as a young mother of Noah who is on the autism spectrum.

A pivotal scene occurs when Adam plans to attend a conference in London but instead finds Summer and Noah, his unknown grandchild. Summer feels that she can’t deal with Noah. The three generations of family flee from the approaching storm, avoid soldiers and roadblocks, shelter in a church and an apartment and are able to escape the fate of the thousands of people killed in the flood.

Themes of aging, life cycles, death, grief and erasure of the past complement the major issue of the effects of climate change. The analogy of ‘boiling the frog’ is used to represent people’s slow response to gradual change. People don’t seem able to think clearly because they are caught up in falling from one disaster to the next.

Sci fi elements include genetically engineered trees known as ‘triffids’ that resemble baobabs.  People use ‘overlays’ to communicate as well as screens. resurrectionist

The writing moves quickly without being superficial. It is engaging and lean yet also poetic.

Clade is an ideal Christmas gift, appealing to those who would appreciate an important story, beautifully told.

Author James Bradley is a literary critic for the Weekend Australian and blogs at City of Tongues.

Chasing the Legend

Ford Street Publishing has recently revised and re-issued ‘The Legend Series’ by Michael Panckridge. I remember how appealing it was for primary age children when I read it in 2003 and so was keen to re-read it. chasing-the-break-cover-e1474516051991

The Legends sports competition is held over the course of the year, beginning with surfing in February. The scoring for the winning Legend in each sport is based on skills, knowledge and a game or competitive session.

The first book in the series is Chasing the Break and it’s about surfing. Mitchell Grady is a new student and is immediately targeted by vindictive bully Travis Fisk. A strong (dirty) athlete like Travis is the perfect antagonist in a series like this.

Camp at the beginning of the year is dedicated to surfing, with the ironman and ironwoman competition held at the end of the week. The descriptions of surfing will capture the attention of young sports’ lovers, with an added thrill from Travis’s underhanded tactics.

Mitchell and his new friends work out a ploy to help Mitchell ‘find the flag’ in the traditional Aussie Nippers’ beach race. Jack tries to sacrifice his own chances of winning to help Mitchell in the race itself. Non-sporty readers may find an affinity with Bryce, who is skilled in using technology.

Mitchell is probably the best male surfer in the group but Travis is a strong swimmer and sprinter, so the ironman race is up for grabs. As a surfer, Mitchell knows the ocean, and uses it to his advantage.

Girls don’t miss out. Some of the best athletes are girls. Their talent in both surfing (such as Penny who has just returned from a surfing competition in Sydney) and cricket (the featured sport in Against the Spin, the second book in the series) can supersede the boys’ skill. The competition between the girls is also intense, particularly between Mia Tompkins, Katie Chan and Luci Rankin at the start. against-the-spin-500-h-cover

There is a hint of beginning romance between Mitchell and Luci, who shows an interest in Mitchell by talking to him and watching him surf. Mitchell has probably never spoken more than a few words to a girl before but he enjoys her attention.

Tennis follows cricket. Then there are some winter team sports before concluding with athletics and swimming. Each book has a slightly different feel because of the focal sport. There is a quiz about the sport at the end of each book.

Reading the series is fun with the points being added up not just in each book but also cumulatively throughout the series to find out who will become the Legend of Sport.

Australian YA: Becoming Aurora and Elizabeth Kasmer

Elizabeth Kasmer’s debut novel Becoming Aurora has just been published by University of Queensland Press. It has a thoughtful, multifaceted storyline and deals with important issues. liz-author-portrait-oval

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books Elizabeth.

Where are you based and how involved are you in the YA lit world?

I live in a tiny town in the hinterland of the Sunshine Coast. Over the years I’ve met many aspiring and established writers through the annual CYA Conference in Brisbane, SCBWI (Brisbane and the Sunny Coast) and the occasional visit to the Write Links group. Children and YA writers sure are a warm-hearted and generous lot!

What’s your working background and how else do you spend your time?

My work background is quite varied. I’ve worked for the blood bank as a donor attendant (visiting just about every RSL and local hall in the greater Brisbane area), as a car park attendant and receptionist. When I was a student I worked in a recycling factory and I have also worked as a primary school teacher. Since the birth of my three sons I’ve helped my husband run his home-based business as a construction programmer. Any spare time is usually spent reading, swimming or catching up with family and friends.

What award has Becoming Aurora won?

Becoming Aurora (or, Aurora, as it was then known) was awarded the Queensland Literary Awards, Emerging Queensland Writer – Manuscript Award 2015.

auroraCould you tell us something about your main characters, and the genesis of Aurora’s name?

Rory is grieving the loss of her father and trying to fit in with a group of kids who resent the influx of migrants (known as ‘boaties’) into their town. Jack is a feisty former champion boxer and tent boxer and Essam is an Iranian migrant and boxer trying his best to fit into his new home country.

I named Aurora after a painting that hangs in the Queensland Art Gallery. I was in Brisbane for a meeting with my writing mentor to discuss story ideas when I decided to take the opportunity to stop by the gallery. Inside, I got talking to an elderly man who told me he had been visiting the (Australian) paintings every year since the gallery had opened there in 1982. He said his annual trip was like visiting old friends. I was on my way out of the gallery when I spotted Aurora by Edward Burne-Jones (one of my ‘old friends’). aurora-126x300As I have a niece named Aurora I decided to purchase a postcard of the painting to send to her. On the train trip home I knew the main character in my story was named Aurora by her father after the painting hanging in the gallery.

How do your characters show kindness?

Rory tends to Jack in the aged care facility and takes the time to listen to his stories. Through friendships with both Jack and Essam, Rory learns to overcome her prejudices and preconceived ideas of what ‘old person’ and ‘boat person’ means. Essam teaches Rory how to box.

How is Becoming Aurora a very Queensland story?

The story is set in the (former) sugarcane town of Nambour. I tried to root the story in the landscape, using local features and icons such as the Glass House Mountains, the beaches and the Big Pineapple. The story is also set over the Christmas holidays which means there is plenty of heat, sweat and storms brewing on the horizon.

Have you received any responses from young readers about Becoming Aurora that particularly resonate with you?

Not as yet but I’m looking forward to hearing responses from young readers!

What are you writing at the moment?

A children’s novel also set in Queensland. This story revolves around a river, superstitious river folk, and two friends who live and fish there.

What have you enjoyed reading? deep

I’ve loved so many books this year but off the top of my head, Rebecca Lim’s The Astrologer’s Daughter, Claire Zorn’s One Would Think the Deep and Lian Hearn’s Tales of the Otori are standout reads. I’ve also just finished (and loved) Vigil by Angela Slatter where the world of the Weyrd collides with modern-day Brisbane.

It was great meeting you at the Brisbane Writers Festival and being in conversation on a panel of debut YA novelists with you, Christopher Currie and Mark Smith. What’s a strong memory of that day?

Meeting both yourself and fellow debut writers Chris Currie and Mark Smith for our discussion was a highlight, but my strongest memory of the day was when I went back to the green room to collect my bag before heading home. I slid open the door and inside, waiting to go on stage, was David Levithan, Meg Rosoff and Jay Kristoff! I stumbled into the room, smiling like a maniac and babbling about just needing to get my bag. David Levithan asked me a question, but it was at that point I got tunnel vision, grabbed my bag and backed out of the room, still smiling. I’m kicking myself now because, really, who wouldn’t want to say hi to a trio of awesome authors?

What a memorable green room encounter!

It was lovely to meet you and all the best with your books, Elizabeth.

More Funny Authors from Laugh Your Head Off Again

laughLaugh Your Head Off Again (Pan Macmillan Australia) is a very funny book of clever stories by top Australian writers such as Andy Griffiths, Morris Gleitzman, Meg McKinlay, Frances Watts, Sally Rippin, Jaclyn Moriarty, Katrina Nannestad, Tony Wilson and New Zealander, Alan Brough. It’s ideal for primary school aged children and would be a good Christmas present.

Read more from some of the funny authors in Laugh Your Head Off Again…

Firstly we have Jaclyn Moriarty

Ta Da!

Can you write funny stories because you come from a funny family? What’s something funny about your family?

I think people who come from serious families can probably be funny too.  Maybe even funnier than the people who come from funny families?   After all, they had to do all the work of being humorous while they were growing up.  Nobody else in their family pitched in.  So they have now become well-trained, highly-tuned humour machines.   Whereas I got to lie around on couches laughing at my parents and my siblings.

Something funny about my family is that none of us can sneeze just once.  We all have to sneeze twenty-five or thirty times.  We are accustomed to it but other people stare and count our sneezes.

What’s something funny about you?

My hair looks a bit funny today.   It looks funny every morning, to be honest, because I seem to sleep like a revolving door, turning around and around on the pillow until my hair is so electrified I could be a dandelion.

What are your other books? What’s something funny in them?celia

I wrote the Ashbury books–– including Feeling Sorry for Celia and Finding Cassie Crazy–– about a letter-writing exchange between two schools, one private and one public.  I also wrote the Colours of Madeleine trilogy about a Kingdom called Cello.

In Finding Cassie Crazy, a boy named Charlie thinks he has saved the school from a gas explosion.  All the kids are sitting on the oval waiting for the police to check the school, and Charlie is feeling very proud of himself.  ‘See those girls sitting cross-legged and singing?’ he says.  ‘They wouldn’t be doing that right now if it wasn’t for me.  See that guy over there taking the shoelace out of one of his sneakers?  Same thing.  That girl picking her nose?  SHE WOULD BE DEAD AND HER NOSE WOULD BE FULLY UNPICKED IF IT WAS NOT FOR ME.’

What everyday experience have you been able to turn into something humorous? How did you do it?

ameliaIn my book Dreaming of Ameliathe characters are writing an exam essay which has to be in ‘gothic’ form––so they have to make it scary and mysterious.  Emily is describing ordinary, everyday things and trying to make them sound gothic to impress the examiners.  ‘There is a deep foreboding in me,’ she says, ‘that my new shampoo doesn’t actually bring out the honey highlights in my hair like it says it does!’  Also: ‘I often sense, via a paroxysm of terror, when I’ve got a new pimple.  And behold, there it was, a pimple of gothic proportions.  I won’t distress you by describing it, except to say that it was on my chin where a witch will oft keep a wart.’

What is the title of your story in the book Laugh Your Head Off Again? Could you tell us something about the story?

The story is called ‘The Quibbles’.  It’s about Barney, the King of the Realms of Dartmeter, Emperor of the Islets from Hither to Thither, Lord of all the Surrounding Bits and Bobs.  He has come to Sydney for a holiday.  While in Sydney, he spends a day taking the kids next door––Tim and Emily––to their activities (swimming, tennis, karate and guitar).   He has many quibbles (small complaints) about the way these activities are taught.  He also has many quibbles (tiny pebble-sharp creatures that jump around between toes) in his shoes.

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And here comes Katrina Nannestad … mischief

Can you write funny stories because you come from a funny family? What’s something funny about your family?

Coming from a funny family sure helps. It’s even better if they’re all crazy.

My dad is optimistic, enthusiastic and extremely clumsy – a dangerous combination. I loved reading the Berenstain Bears when I was a kid, because the dad in those books was so much like my mine. Once, at a camping ground, my brother and I were trying to perfect the art of somersaulting into the pool, when Dad came along to show us a better way. He leapt into the air, completed a brilliant somersault, then came down, head-first, onto the edge of the pool. Moans. Groans. Blood. Stitches. The whole catastrophe. My brother and I were delighted!

What’s something funny about you?

I watch ‘Shaun the Sheep’ when nobody’s watching. I laugh myself stupid.

What are your other books? What’s something funny in them?

My other books are Bungaloo Creek, the Red Dirt Diary series, The Girl Who Brought Mischief and the Olive of Groves series. olive

Mrs Groves, in my Olive of Groves series, is one of the funniest characters I’ve ever created. She’s headmistress of Mrs Groves’ Boarding School for Naughty Boys, Talking Animals and Circus Performers. She is kind but bonkers, and has absolutely no control over her unruly students. In fact, when things get out of hand, she drops to the floor and commando crawls into hiding – beneath the fronds of a potted palm, inside a cupboard amongst the tangrams and protractors, or behind the heavy velvet curtains in her office. It may not be the most effective way to run a school, but it has worked for Mrs Groves for the last twenty-seven years and she is not about to change things now!

What everyday experience have you been able to turn into something humorous? How did you do it?

redI used to teach at a tiny country school. One day at lunch time, the kids made rude body parts in the sandpit. They were killing themselves laughing. It was really cute and a typical little-kid thing to do. I was in the middle of writing Red Dirt Diary 2: Blue About Love at the time, so I put it in the book. There’s just one line and a picture. I didn’t need to change anything. It was funny and sweet as it was. Life is full of marvels and laughs that are just waiting to be included in a story!

What is the title of your story in the book Laugh Your Head Off Again? Could you tell us something about the story?

My story is Mr Big and Ziggy. Mr Big is an enormous dog, possibly a mix of Great Dane, Labrador and horse. Ziggy is a small boy with a big heart, but a limited imagination when it comes to naming his pets. Both dog and boy are delightful but, together, they have a knack for getting into spots of bother. And sometimes, they get into seriously large splatters of bother …

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And last but not least, here’s funnyman Alan Brough! alan-brough

Can you write funny stories because you come from a funny family? I’m not sure. I’ve spent a long time thinking about that question and I still haven’t arrived at a satisfactory answer. What’s something funny about your family? You could always tell if my great aunt Marge was coming to visit because you could hear her coming down the street burping and farting really loudly. (That’s true. Once she got lost in a stand of native bush and was found because we followed the sound of her burps.)

What’s something funny about you? Lobster wobbling. (It’s a thing I do. Some people find it funny. Okay, only two people have ever found it funny. Most people find it slightly odd and a bit upsetting.)

granniesWhat are your other books? I have only written one other book: Charlie and the War Against the Grannies. What’s something funny in it? Charlie dies. I know it doesn’t sound funny but it is. (He’s not really dead, he’s just been squirted in the face with rooster brand chilli sauce by an evil granny.)

What everyday experience have you been able to turn into something humorous? Farting. How did you do it? By just saying the word ‘farting.’ (Try it. Next time you’re with a group of other people doing something serious just say the word ‘farting’ and see what happens.)

What is the title of your story in the book Laugh Your Head Off Again? The name of my story is ‘Charlie and the Silence of the Llamas’. Could you tell us something about the story? It features a boy called Charlie, some llamas and a machine called ‘The Pulsating Pointy Prong of Puncturing Panic.’

Boom boom

Thanks very much Jaclyn, Katrina and Alan and all the best to you and the other contributors with Laugh Your Head Off Again.

James Roy and One Thousand Hills

jonesJames Roy has a strong pedigree in the world of children’s and young adult writing. His stand-out books in my opinion are Town, sophisticated interlinked short stories; Problem Child, about bullying from the bully’s point of view; and his intriguing, wrenching YA novel, Anonymity Jones.

James’s new YA novel One Thousand Hills was published by Scholastic Australia this year.

It’s a powerful, important story, shared by Rwandan, Noël Zihabamwe and has won the NSW Premier’s Young People’s History Prize this year.

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, James.

Where are you based and how involved are you in the YA and children’s lit world?

I live in the Blue Mountains, but I travel broadly in my work as a schools presenter, as well as in my pursuit of a cracking story. I am heavily involved with WestWords, a Western Sydney youth literature initiative, and I try to be supportive of (and seek the support of) other kidlit/YA creators.

What’s your background and how else do you spend your time?

I was raised in a Seventh-day Adventist missionary family, and I think that upbringing gave me two great gifts – a love of story, and a love of music. Writing ticks the first box, and playing in various bands ticks the other.

mackI remember seeing a fantastic version of your children’s book Edsel Grizzler as a Bookgig at the Brisbane Writers Festival. Which one other of your works would you like to see in a different form?

I’m currently working on a screen adaptation of Captain Mack, which excites me (although I’m still looking for a producer – hint hint…). I think Town would make an interesting stageplay or film, and of course One Thousand Hills.

Why did you write One Thousand Hills?

As a child, my friend Noël lived the story of One Thousand Hills. In a sense this book was written to honour him and the countless other children living through the hell of civil war and tribal violence. I hope it also serves as something of a cautionary tale – this is what happens when hatred, ignorance and bigotry is left unchecked.

Is it a novel for children or young adults?

It was written for young people. It is very carefully structured to allow younger readers to appreciate it without being too confronted. But anyone – adult or young person – who comes to it with any foreknowledge of the events is left in no doubt that this was a brutal and nightmarish event.

Could you tell us about your main character?hills

Pascal is very much like Noël, who was nine at the time of the genocide. He’s a normal kid with siblings, parents, friends, teachers. He’s a normal kid who one day encounters the unimaginable.

How do you know and can write a character like this?

Societal and cultural detail was obtained through my conversations with Noël. Beyond that, Pascal is just a kid. If I’ve learnt one thing from twenty years of speaking with kids all over the world, it’s that the same things motivate, excite and worry them no matter where on earth they live.

Have you received any responses from readers about One Thousand Hills that particularly resonate with you?

The most interesting one I’ve read was on GoodReads, where someone said they really didn’t like it – that it made them feel physically ill – before going on and listing all the ways it had affected them, and talking about how much they had learnt and processed from reading the book. I took that as a win.

What are you working on at the moment? chook

I’m finishing the latest of the Chook Doolan books, and also putting together some ideas for an adult novel that will form part of my Masters dissertation. In the meantime, a sequel to One Thousand Hills seems quite likely.

What have you recently enjoyed reading?

I’m currently re-reading Moby Dick, in preparation for my dissertation. I’m also about to get back into Old Yeller forty years after I first read it. I have a multitude of tissues at the ready.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Would it be too political to suggest that we #CloseTheCamps?

Thanks for your answers and all the best with One Thousand Hills, James.

Laugh Your Head Off Again

laughLaugh Your Head Off Again (Pan Macmillan Australia) is a very funny book of clever stories by top Australian writers such as Andy Griffiths, Morris Gleitzman, Meg McKinlay, Frances Watts, Sally Rippin, Jaclyn Moriarty, Katrina Nannestad, Tony Wilson and New Zealander, Alan Brough. It’s ideal for primary school aged children and would be a good Christmas present. 

Meg McKinlay answers my questions (and makes me laugh out loud):

 Can you write funny stories because you come from a funny family? What’s something funny about your family?

I’m not sure where my sense of humour comes from but I do think all families are funny in their own way. Mine has recently developed a habit of replacing photos in other family members’ houses with pictures of Russian President Vladimir Putin and seeing how long it takes them to notice. I find this pretty amusing.

 What’s something funny about you?

It takes me an average of 78 days to notice that a photo of a cherished family member has been replaced with a shot of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

What are your other books? What’s something funny in them? ducks

I’ve published thirteen books, ranging from picture books all the way through to a poetry collection for adults. Some of my best-known books are No Bears, Duck for a Day, and A Single Stone.

One of my favourite funny moments is in Definitely No Ducks! – the sequel to Duck for a Day – when Max the duck disguises himself as a penguin in order to take part in a class assembly, and things go chaotically wrong.

What everyday experience have you been able to turn into something humorous? How did you do it?

I once drove past someone sitting at a bus stop and – due to their long limbs and black clothing – briefly mistook them for a speed camera. I turned this into a poem called ‘Walter’, about a boy with ‘unnatural angles’ who deliberately sets out to trick motorists. As for how I did so, I just let my brain think the weirdest thoughts imaginable and ran with them. I consider this to be a very sound policy at all times.

What is the title of your story in the book Laugh Your Head Off Again? Could you tell us something about the story?

My story is called “Corn Chip Belieber”. It’s about two boys who find a corn chip that looks like Justin Bieber and come up with a get-rich-quick scheme, only to be thwarted by a kamikaze seagull. It was a ridiculous amount of fun to write but has complicated my love of corn chips.

Thanks very much Meg and all the best with this new book and your other work. stone

Black YA

Three YA novels delve into the dark side:

BlackIn Black by Fleur Ferris (Penguin Randomhouse Australia), new student Aiden invites protagonist, Black, to the Year 12 formal. She thinks it’s a set-up because no one would invite her to the formal. Of course we are then hooked and want to discover why. Black is attractive. What has happened to make her untouchable? We do discover that three of her friends, Jess, Louis and Oscar have died. She is haunted by Father Ratchet, leader of the Pure Apostles cult, who has recruited Black’s former best friend and now enemy, Ged.

Black’s father is working in Antarctica and the local water plant and dams he normally oversees are being supervised by young man, Ed. Black works with him after school and this aspect of the story adds an interesting and suspenseful dimension. We learn some of the science (in an interesting way) and about the risk of poisoning the town’s water supply.

Fleur Ferris is an exciting new Australian talent. Her first published novel Risk recently co-won the YA category of the Sisters in Crime Davitt award. See Fleur’s interview here. Black is a fast paced, gripping read.

MaliceWith Malice by Eileen Cook (Hot Key Books) begins with Jill waking up in hospital. She has lost her memory of recent weeks and has serious injuries. Even worse, she is accused of deliberately killing her best friend Simone in a car accident. The two girls were part of a group travelling around Italy (there are some similarities with Melina Marchetta’s adult novel Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil  here). As well as hearing Jill’s point of view we are also given different perspectives by reading texts between Jill and Simone, police interview statements and forensic psychology reports. The ‘Justice for Simone’ blog shrilly asserts Jill’s guilt, dredging up old photos, rumours and comments out of context. The case against Jill accelerates until she faces extradition to Italy. It’s a superb psychological thriller: addictive and terrifying.

DarkenLike the other two books, I was transfixed by And I Darkenfirst in a new trilogy by Kiersten White (Corgi Books, Penguin Randomhouse). Lada is the unwanted daughter of Vlad Dracul. Born in 1434 in Transylvania she is the antithesis of the usual princess, using strength, brutality and intelligence to keep her younger brother and herself alive despite the conspiracies of court and kingdom. This is an original historical fantasy for older readers set mainly in the Sultan-ruled Ottoman Empire with references to exotic Constantinople and Byzantium, now Istanbul.

The 2016 Qld Literary Awards Children’s Shortlist and Winner

Awards such as the Griffith University Children’s Book Award, which recognises excellent books for the young, is a great place to find books to share and enjoy with children. A run-down on this year’s shortlisted books and winner follows:

Suri’s Wall by Lucy Estela, illustrator: Matt Ottley (Penguin/Viking) Suri

Suri, the protagonist of the picture book Suri’s Wall, is living behind a wall in a grim institution. Its stonework and mountaintop buildings create a timeless, universal setting. She feels segregated from the other children because of her height but this is what eventually enables her to peer over the wall. She is then able to distract and comfort the smaller children with stories of what she sees.

Matt Ottley’s fantastical illustrations of “golden bridges stretching far beyond sight”, a colourful township and a surreal circus enhance the imaginative spaces in Lucy Estela’s story, enabling destruction to be supplanted by beauty.

How the Sun Got to Coco’s House by Bob Graham (Walker Books) Sun

Bob Graham’s How the Sun Got to Coco’s House will no doubt be recognised in both Australian and international awards lists. The story follows the journey of the sun from the Arctic to Europe, Asia and the Subcontinent, across mountains, seas, cities and countryside, over whales, birds, planes and people. It finally arrives at Coco’s house in time to wake her up.

Bob Graham’s perfectly formed spare text and detailed, light-filled watercolour illustrations show what the sun touches in its daily travels.  The sun does reach Coco’s house and, “But for a few passing clouds, they spend the whole day together”.

Incredibilia by Libby Hathorn; illustrator: Gaye Chapman (Little Hare) Incredibilia

Young, red-haired Georgie is often left out of the games of her older siblings so she devises  imaginative games to play by herself. Max and Harriet are eventually intrigued enough by what is occupying Georgie to beg her to let them join in.

The illustrations are whimsical and add to the celebration of play, which is such an important and productive way for young children to spend their time.

 

Me, Teddy by Chris McKimmie (Allen & Unwin) Teddy

Brisbane-based Chris McKimmie has been creating unconventional picture books for quite a few years now. A number of them have been shortlisted for awards. His idiosyncratic style of collage, mixed media and additions by young family members often help readers unconsciously discover different aspects of Brisbane life or new ways of looking at things.

Me, Teddy captures the endearing development of a black Labrador and his growing place in the family. The extra work and trouble he causes is completely nullified by the warmth and love he brings.

And the deserving winner of this category is:

Kidglovz by Julie Hunt; illustrator:Dale Newman (Allen & Unwin)

“There is a town in the mountains not far from here where people lock their pianos on the night of the full moon. It makes no difference – the keys move up and down and the air is filled with music.” Kid

Young pianist prodigy Kidglovz is controlled by Dr Eronius Spin but is ‘rescued’ after meeting tightrope walker, Shoestring. His life revolves around music and he ‘hears’ the stars as being five octaves high, the night is in D minor and people sound like melodies. Kidglovz encounters adventures and unusual villains and  characters in his search for truth and safety.

This innovative and impressive graphic novel for primary age children is illustrated in black and white and is a wonderful way of ‘stepping’ into literature.

The Natural History of Narelle Oliver

Narelle Oliver is a creator, a world-wind who shared life and our wonderful natural world in incomparable ways. Her picture books of narrative non-fiction are informed and exquisitely constructed, often using her signature hand-coloured linocuts.

I had to catch my breath when I recently opened our copy of The Hunt  (adapted for the international market as Twilight Hunt). Narelle has featured camouflage and hidden creatures in this and a number of her picture books. In The Hunt I also found the bookplate reminding me that we gave this book to our now 24 year-old teacher son on his fifth birthday. Bilby

Camouflage also appears in Baby Bilby, where do you sleep? Like many other people, this is the book I always buy for babies but it is so much more than the typical baby book with its age-appropriate information about desert animals and peepholes displaying the animals and their tracks.

I remember my first reading of Sand Swimmers: The Secret Life of Australia’s Dead Heart when it was published. The content is original – discovering the unexpected life in the desert alongside the explorations of Charles Sturt but the exceptional multilayered composition is what sets it apart for me.

The Best Beak in Boonaroo Bay is a fable about wanting to be the best. It is fascinating that the spoonbill appears here first amongst the birds who compete to have the best beak. Narelle went on to create her award-winning book Don’t let a Spoonbill in the kitchen! which once again features the spoonbill with its wide, swishing beak. Home

Home is Brisbane’s iconic picture book about the peregrine falcons who nest on the ledge of a high-rise building in the city after their bush home has been destroyed by fire. The illustrative style in this book is seminal because of the ‘altered photography’ – a combination of collage, photos, linocut rubbings, pastel, pencil and watercolour. Home won the NSW Premier’s Children’s Literary Award (Patricia Wrightson award) in 2007 and its artwork has become a permanent exhibition on the walls of Brisbane Square Library. http://www.narelleoliver.com/Projects.aspx?page=projects&id=8

Narelle would travel around Australia and further afield running popular workshops for children. She has left a wonderful legacy of other books and collaborations. She also illustrated the cover of UQP’s re-issue of Ruth Park’s children’s classic My Sister Sif in her inimitable mermaid style.

I was privileged to be in conversation with Narelle in a retrospective of her work at the launch of her brilliant Fox and Fine Feathers by Governor-General, Quentin Bryce.

http://www.narelleoliver.com/resources/magpiemagazineinterview.pdf Fox

Fox was an Honour book in the 2010 CBCA awards. Apart from its evocative, suspenseful story and peerless linocuts, it is distinguished by lyrical writing, panels and frame-breaking. The unconventionally shaped panels when the Nightjar tricks Fox masterfully suggest a jigsaw puzzle. I bought a limited edition hand-coloured print of the Coachwood Forest (a double-page spread in the book), which I love because of the sense that I’m about to walk into the picture and into the forest. When our home was badly flooded in the 2011 Brisbane floods, Narelle offered to replace this artwork but fortunately we had saved it. We have it with us now and, alongside her books, it is a constant reminder of Narelle’s talent, kindness and generosity.

Narelle Oliver 1960-2016

Tim Winton, the Boy Behind the Curtain

CurtainIt has been an enlightening experience to read these essays about Tim Winton’s life in The Boy Behind the Curtain (Penguin, Hamish Hamilton). They fill some of the gaps in and between his books, as well as enhancing the books themselves and perhaps even allow us to vicariously experience some of Winton’s own life and passions.

Perhaps we now take the saving of Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia for granted. It was both fascinating and empowering to read the chapter, ‘The Battle for Ningaloo Reef’. This significant chapter is one of a couple that has particularly lingered after finishing the book. Powerful forces often barrage anyone who tries to stand up to moneymaking schemes. The struggle to save Ningaloo is documented by Winton so that we see the powerlessness of the underdog trying to fight determined developers. The protestors are often voiceless, even a prominent figure such as Winton. It seems only when persistence and a groundswell of people join the campaign that environmental icons such as Ningaloo can be saved.

BluebackTim Winton describes dead zones, areas where marine life can’t live, in ‘Sea Change’. He wrote the popular fable Blueback in 1997 and wonders if this unconsciously preempted his role as environmental advocate.

His love of the sea’s creatures extends to sharks. In ‘The Demon Shark’, Winton protests against the killing of sharks and compares them with bees, which actually kill more Australians each year. Removing shark fins from live sharks is unconscionable.

Poet Les Murray is referred to twice in the book. In ‘Holy and Silent: On Peter Matthiessen’s Blue Meridian’, Murray is quoted as describing ‘a sense of space’ as “the quality of sprawl”. Winton’s youth spent inhabiting the freedom of the coast, particularly by fishing and surfing, has continued throughout most of his life and is also outlined in ‘The Wait and the Flow’.

His childhood is memorably described in ‘The Boy Behind the Curtain’, where he stood, concealed, aiming a gun at those who passed by. Transformative experiences occurred when his father was hit by a car. A Christian man cared for him and Winton learned that strangers ‘could wreck your life and do you harm [but also be] capable of mysterious kindness’. This led to Winton and his parents becoming Christians.

Winton later refers to the question asked by Jesus in ‘Stones for Bread’, “If a child asks you for bread, will you give him a stone?” as pertinent to Australia’s treatment of children in detention centres. This is an issue about which he is seething.

RidersWe also learn about some of his writing influences: Elizabeth Jolley as an unconventional mentor; the novel he dumped with enormous angst in ‘Lighting Out’; and the Irish cottage he lived in for a time in ‘Letter From a Strong Place’, with its strong echoes of The Riders.

The Tales of Jahani

Leopard PrincessRosanne Hawke is writing The Tales of Jahani, beginning with  Daughter of Nomads & continuing with The Leopard Princess (UQP).

Reading Daughter of Nomads feels like being inside a rich nomad tent surrounded by colours, textures and the scent of spices.

Could you tell us about the setting?

The setting is based on where we lived when we were aid workers in Pakistan in the 1980s and early 1990s. We lived in Abbottabad which I’ve used as inspiration for Sherwan (in 1662) where Jahani was brought up. The beautiful alpine lakes with paries (fairies), rushing rivers, dangerous bridges and fairy fields are all places we took our children to visit. Even the air view from Azhar’s carpet of the Karakorams and Himalayas came from personal experience when we had to take a rather old and small plane from Chitral to Peshawar to escape the blocked snow passes.

What exotic elements, talismans or motifs have you included in the series?

I have an ancient taveez which I bought in Peshawar and it became the inspiration for Jahani’s taveez. I also have a nomad dress and a pouch (similar to the one that Jahani’s nomad mother gives her). The idea of pari power in the story comes from the folklore of Hunza (Hahayul in The Tales of Jahani). I haven’t been to Hunza but my husband has and I have some lovely photos of the area that a friend, Catherine Wood, took for me.

Where did the stories woven into the main narrative that seem to be like Tales from the Arabian Nights come from – traditional or your creation? Arabian

Most of these come from the Shahnameh: the Persian Book of Kings. The evil King Zahhak appears quite early in the Shahnameh as does that of Feraydun who slays him. The famous heroes Rostam, Sohrab and Gordafarid come later on. Even Kaveh one of the horses’ names comes from this mythology. The stories about the beginnings of the kingdoms I gleaned from Pakistani travel books. These are stories that people there know and these naturally fed into the fantasy aspect of the books.

How does the character of Jahani change?

Jahani wakes up one morning believing she is a poor girl who may not amount to much, maybe never be able to be married, and then finds she is someone else entirely. Due to a tragic event she suddenly has no idea who she is. Throughout the story she learns to trust and grows into a young woman who is able to take charge of her own destiny.

How have you subverted the traditional role of women?

In the Mughal Empire women did not rule on their own. If they were called Empress it was because their husband was an emperor. Yet the intrigue and deals that went on in the royal harems are fascinating to read about. One emperor was drugged half the time and his favourite wife made most of the decisions. He just had to sign the papers.

The women I met in Pakistan weren’t downtrodden as they are often depicted in the west. Once a girl gets educated she can do anything, wearing a scarf or not. I guess that’s why the Taliban shot Malala. She knew the truth: educate a girl and you change the world. Jahani wanted to change the world even before she knew who she was. She had to fight for the privilege to do so. I hope she will be a role model to show the unlimited potential all women have.

Are these stories for entertainment or to express issues? Or both?

After writing some stories with heavy topics like forced marriage, trafficking, war orphans and blasphemy, I wanted to write something lighter, fun, adventurous and epic. A story to show the beauty and the best of Pakistan. To celebrate the life we had there with our children. It was my eldest daughter who encouraged me to write about Jahani as this was a story she remembered from her childhood. When I look back on the story and also read some of the reviews I can see there is more to her character. It’s true I did want to portray a strong female character which I hope I have done with Jahani.

Daughter of NomadsHow have you segued book 1 into book 2? (unless this is a spoiler)

Daughter of Nomads segues into The Leopard Princess by Jahani having her recurring dream of fire; it is a pivotal scene for the second book as she finally learns what the dream means. When Jahani wakes from the dream only a few days have passed since the end of book one and then the action carries on with the nomads being attacked. Readers can read the first chapter of The Leopard Princess at the end of Daughter of Nomads.

How involved were you in the conception of the illustrations by D.M. Cornish? What is most appealing about them to you?

Aren’t they gorgeous? He is so talented. I loved the way they echo the gold and minarets of the Mughal Empire. I was asked for some ideas of what could go into the cover and the internal pictures but I wanted him to use his own ideas as I thought the best work would come out that way and so it did. I did want one of the illustrations in each book to include the leopard and one to include the carpet in the first book. Other than that D.M. worked his own magic.

Describe your dream magic carpet.

One that grows in feelings as Azhar’s does. Rich colours: red and green, maybe some animals as found on Persian carpets. One that can save your life if you fall off!

Anything else you’d like to add?

I’d like to mention the great job my son Michael Hawke did of Jahani’s poems. He’d read the manuscript and I told him Jahani liked Rumi’s poems but other than that inspiration, the work was all his own. Even at the end, close to typesetting, when my editor Kristy Bushnell and I realised we needed a song for the people to sing, Michael delivered. He is amazing.

Thank you very much for your generous responses, Rosanne and all the best with this series.

YA: Our Chemical Hearts & Krystal Sutherland

Krystal Sutherland’s YA debut novel Our Chemical Hearts has just been published by Penguin Random House Australia. Author+Photo

It describes a singular relationship and has an originality and authenticity that young adults will respond to.

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, Krystal.

My pleasure!

Where are you based and how involved are you in the YA lit world?

I’m currently based in Sydney, though I’ve also lived in Amsterdam and Hong Kong. I’m slowly becoming more involved in the YA scene here in Australia; most of my writing friends are based in the UK, so I feel a certain pull toward London, but I’m going to meet a few Aussie authors on my tour. Hopefully they’ll like me enough to keep in touch!

What’s your working background and how else do you spend your time?

My first paid writing job was as a staff writer for my university’s what’s on magazine. It was a sweet gig. I got to go to red carpet events and interview celebrities like Matt Damon and Baz Luhrmann. After that I took over editing duties for a year, then worked as a foreign correspondent in Amsterdam before landing my book deal.

Where is it set and what inspired you to write Our Chemical HeartsChemical hearts

The book is set in the US… Somewhere… At the time of writing, I didn’t know US geography well enough to set it in, say, New York, so I left the specific location ambiguous.

What inspired me to write it? Gosh, so many things. It wasn’t like a lightning bolt out of the blue, that’s for sure. It was a slow burn of inspiration. It started with an image that became the first chapter: Henry in drama class, and Grace walking in. I wanted to know more about the characters, so I kept writing.

Major characters Henry Page and Grace Town are extremely memorable (love their names). Could you tell us about these characters?

Henry is optimistic but naïve, a classic hopeless romantic who believes in love at first sight and grand gestures. Grace is the opposite: a realist who’s had to grow up faster than most people and no longer sees love as something pretty and frilly.

How do you know and can write characters like these?

You don’t, not until you sit down and write them! The characters develop over time, becoming richer and richer the more time you spend with them.

Why did you write Murray, the Australian character, in such a ‘Steve Irwin’ style?

Whenever I travel or live overseas, I notice this strange phenomenon: Australians become hyper Australian. We talk about dropbears and how dangerous our fauna is (even though most of us have never seen a deadly snake in the wild). We say g’day a lot more and our accents tend to become more noticeable. A lot of the world sees us as “Steve Irwin style” and don’t know any different – so in order to protect his Aussie identity, Murray is essentially giving the people what they want.

Could you tell us something about the music and literary references you’ve included in the novel?Pablo

They were mostly just what I was listening to or reading at the time – ‘Someday’ by the Strokes, ‘Hey’ by the Pixies, a bit of Elvis playing in the coffee shop when I was writing one day. The Pablo Neruda poem is one I’ve loved for some time, and it fit the story so well I couldn’t not include it.

Have you received any responses from young readers about Our Chemical Hearts that particularly resonate with you?

I’ve had several young readers tell me Our Chemical Hearts is their new favourite book, which – as a writer – is massive. The books we love as teens help shape us into the adults we eventually become, so having that kind of impact on someone’s life is simply mind-blowing.

What are you writing at the moment?

I just finished the draft of my second book, which is a YA magical realism about fear and anxiety. I think readers are really going to connect with it.

What have you enjoyed reading?

My favourite YA books of the year so far are The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, Highly Illogical Behaviour by John Corey Whaley, and This Savage Song by V.E.Schwab. Outside of YA, I adored Uprooted by Naomi Novak. Illogical

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I’m going on a five day, five state tour of Australia! If you’re in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane or Sydney, I’ll be visiting a bookstore near you. Check my website for dates, times and locations.

Thanks for your really interesting answers and all the best with Our Chemical Hearts, Krystal.

Ruins and Rajith Savanadasa

RajithIn a sold-out session at the weekend’s Brisbane Writers Festival, Rajith Savanadasa spoke to me about his assured debut novel Ruins (Hachette Australia). Amongst other things, I was fascinated to hear that his favourite place is a quiet room in which to read.

Ruins gives an arresting insight into Sri Lanka at the end and aftermath of the Civil War. Rajith uses an intriguing cast of five main characters, four from the one family, to provide different perspectives. Rajith explained how his characters of husband/father Mano, wife/mother Lakshima, daughter Anoushka, son Niranjan and servant Latha are archetypes.

Her recently discovered brother is perhaps coercing Latha to return to the village and help care for his children. She serves the Colombo family of four well but feels that perhaps they don’t care for her in the way she hopes. It was interesting to hear Rajith’s comments on his own family servant Yasa and the novel is dedicated to her. She will always be looked after.

RuinsMano works for the newspaper, publishing only what will keep the staff safe, and is a voyeur until the woman who attracts him dies suddenly. He and Lakshima have a mixed marriage, He is Sinhalese and she is Tamil. He is Buddhist and she is Hindu, but also believes in Buddha. The family savings were used to send Niranjan to study in Australia but he doesn’t seem to be one of the “good children” who return and work hard. Anoushka has many of the difficulties faced by a gay teenage girl who doesn’t follow the demands of the popular group. Rajith revealed that he does share some of her taste in music.

Mano is shocked when Anoushka doesn’t realise there’s a difference between Tamils and the terrorist Tamil Tigers. “The war was against terrorists, not Tamils.”

The novel is ingeniously structured around the ancient artefact of the moonstone where animals represent elements of the life cycle, the vine is desire, the fire-ring shows life’s difficulties and the lotus flower is nirvana. Latha’s thoughts go around and around, becoming cyclic like the structure until she learns to let go of everything and just be.

It was enjoyable to watch the enthusiastic faces of the audience, particularly Rajith’s co-writers from the Queensland Writers’ Centre/Hachette Manuscript Development Program. He would have felt well supported.

Rajith was also on the panel with Sudanese-born Brisbane author Yassmin Abdel-Magied and Korean-American author Suki Kim, which was formed quickly by the BWF as a right-of-reply to Lionel Shriver’s infamous opening address.

 

YA at the BWF16

AuroraThere was a plethora of YA authors at this year’s Brisbane Writers Festival.

I enjoyed hearing Meg Rosoff speak about Jonathan Unleashed (Bloomsbury). It’s a memorable story about a youngish man living in New York City with two dogs his brother has asked him to mind. He hates his job in advertising and is being pushed into marriage with his girlfriend who works for a bridal magazine. It’s not a YA novel although Jonathan acts like a boy for much of the book. It certainly did seem to reflect parts of Meg’s own life story and also reminded me of reading Graeme Simsion’s Rosie stories. This means I liked it very much!

It was also a delight to hear Maxine Beneba Clarke speak to secondary school students. She’s not a YA writer but her Foreign Soil and The Hate Race (Hachette) have garnered widespread praise. Maxine helped students appreciate poetry and her performance of several of her poems was breathtaking. I felt that these students were honoured to hear her and that she would make a powerful impression on their attitudes and writing.

WinterThere were other exciting YA and children’s writers I unfortunately didn’t have the opportunity to hear but I was involved in facilitating a panel of debut YA authors at Brisbane Square Library’s ‘Love YA!’ day. Mark Smith, a teacher and surfer from coastal Victoria, spoke about his post apocalyptic novel The Road to Winter, Queensland Sunshine Coast’s Elizabeth Kasmer shared her thoughtful look at identity, racism and aging in Becoming Aurora (which has a fascinating connection with a painting in the Qld Art Gallery) and celebrity Brisbane bookseller Christopher Currie spoke about his well written exploration of Clancy in a small Qld town in Clancy of the Undertow.Clancy

Their characters were all sixteen (or almost 16), a pivotal age for change; all the authors had interesting reasons for choosing their characters’ names (Finn, Aurora and Clancy); all incorporated sport in their novel (surfing, boxing, cricket); all showcased nature or a special place in their characters’ lives and, perhaps unusually in YA novels, all featured kindness either through their major or minor characters. These three authors were all a pleasure to interview. Seek out their books. Find them on social media.

Jay Kristoff was also riveting at ‘Love YA!’ (and had a very long signing queue!) where he spoke about Nevernight. He and Illuminae (Allen&Unwin) co-author Aime Kaufman were later treated to Argo’s musical performance of Illuminae back at the State Library’s stunning Red Box as the sun set over the Brisbane River. The space opera was composed and performed by Ben Heim and Connor D’Netto and included electrifying cello solos by Patrick Murphy, a cast of strings and voice-overs from the novel. It was a very sophisticated and atmospheric finale to my BWF16.

Argo
Illuminae by Argo

Midge Raymond and My Last Continent

Midge_Raymond_photoOne of the most delightful and enthusiastic authors at the Brisbane Writers Festival this year was Oregon-based Midge Raymond. I was fortunate to moderate one of her sessions in front of an informed and interested audience. We spoke mostly about her new novel My Last Continent (Text Publishing) but Midge also told us about her boutique publishing company Ashland Creek Press, which publishes books about the environment.

My Last Continent is one of those novels that is enjoyable and thought provoking and also lingers afterwards. I missed it after I’d finished reading, particularly learning about and understanding Antarctica and human interaction with the continent. I wanted to read more, so it was wonderful to have Midge continue the action, adventure, danger, science, history and romance of her tale in person.

People have a range of reasons for visiting Antarctica. They run out of places to hide or, in contrast to early explorers, want to be the last to see its sights and inhabitants. Midge celebrates the untamed beauty and danger of Antarctica and also offers a personal and literary affinity with its creatures, mainly here through her protagonist, naturalist Deb, whose personality, longings and hopes are shared with the reader. The major relationship in the novel is between Deb and Keller, an elusive man who also comes to love the far south and its creatures. He even discovers an Adelie penguin who sits in his lap to be stroked and Midge revealed how this is actually based on a penguin in Argentina, Turbo.

ContinentThe structure of the novel builds to the pivotal episode of the shipwreck of a cruise ship. Chapters oscillate expertly between ‘5 Years Before Shipwreck’, ‘5 Days Before Shipwreck’, ‘One Week Before Shipwreck’, hours before shipwreck and ‘Afterwards’. Foreshadowing also creates an ominous tone.

Tension from how far south ill-equipped ships travel for sights and experiences to thrill their passengers and when they should turn back for the sake of safety is threaded into the story.

A scientist and Antarctic voyager in the audience endorsed the accuracy of Midge’s research and her tale in glowing terms.

Midge is also the author of Forgetting English, which won the Spokane Prize for Short Fiction, has taught communication writing at Boston University and has written two writers’ guides, Everyday Writing and Everyday Book Marketing.

As well as reading My Last Continent, it is worth exploring Midge’s blog. I feel privileged to have met her.

midge-turbo

Indigenous Literacy Day & The Book that Made Me

Meet Judith Ridge, editor of The Book that Made Me (Walker Books)

Where are you based and what is your current professional role?

After living most of my adult as an “inner westie”, I moved to the north-west of Sydney 6 years ago. I currently work at Liverpool City Library, in Sydney’s south-west, where my title is Coordinator, Outreach Programs. People have mistaken me for a librarian for much of my working life; I actually started out as an English teacher, and have worked in publishing and arts projects for the past 20-something years. Working in a public library is a wonderful opportunity and one I am enjoying very much.

How did you select which authors to invite to contribute to The Book that Made Me?

Book that Made meI started out with a wish list, which was part of my pitch. That original list included writers whose work I knew and admired, and who I believed would have some really interesting and potentially unexpected ways of approaching the topic. I was also looking for a variety of contributors; not every person on the list was necessarily what we might think of as a writer of YA, but were writers who teens would likely have come across in other media, and whose work I thought was well worth bringing to their attention. My publisher also wanted to make sure Walker authors were well-represented, including authors from their New Zealand and UK lists.

I was also keen to include writers across genres, form (I would have loved to have had more visual artists involved) and from a range of cultural backgrounds. It was especially important to me to have Aboriginal contributors, and not just because the royalties from the book go to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, but because there is no Australian story without indigenous voices.Ambelin

How was this title selected?

The Book That Made Me was only meant to be a working title until we all decided there wasn’t a better one that described what the book was. I can’t imagine it being called anything else now.

What brief/guidelines did you give the contributors?

I’ve actually quoted part of the brief in my introduction to the book: It may have been the book that made you fall in love. Made you understand something for the first time. Made you think. Made you laugh. Made you angry. Made you feel safe. Made you feel challenged in ways you never knew you could be; emotionally, intellectually, politically. Made you you.

How did you get a response from Mal Peet, who died last year? (has the book been awhile in the planning?) Peet

I think I first pitched The Book That Made Me in 2012 or 2013. The publication date was pushed back twice. This isn’t unusual in publishing, and it especially is not unusual for a book of this nature, with multiple contributors.

I met Mal and his wife Elspeth Graham several times when they travelled to Australia for writers’ festivals, and he was on that original wishlist of contributors. Mal was one of the smartest, funniest and most generous men I ever met, and I am honoured to have his witty and slightly angry piece in the book.

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

Both a lot and not much! None of the contributions needed much in the way of a structural edit; most of the back and forth with the writers was to fact-check and clarify ideas, and also to ensure copyright clearance for works cited (when direct quotes were made). I came up with titles for most of the essays, which the contributors obviously had to approve, so there was also a bit of back and forth there. Copy-editing was done externally—fresh eyes!—and the final page proofs were checked by me, my fabulous in-house editor at Walker, Mary Verney and the contributors (and yet a few pesky typos slipped through nevertheless!).

How did you deal with authors who wanted to include more than one book?

With pleasure! There was never any expectation that the contributors would necessarily stick to one book, or even, as it turned out, to a book at all. I love that magazines, comic books and plays (for example) are honoured. I’m also thrilled that Ambelin Kwaymullina wrote so brilliantly about Aboriginal story and the oral tradition, which is, after all, where all stories started.

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

Yes and yes—of course! In the natural way of these things, some entirely amazing people ended up dropping out of the project, or couldn’t do it in the first place (kindly expressing regret). If there were to be a second book, well, there are some really exciting new YA writers that have emerged in the last few years who would definitely be getting an invitation.

How did you organise the blend of Australian and OS material?

That was partly done in consultation with Walker Books Australia (see previous answer), although some of the OS writers were on my original list.

How did you sequence the chapters?

All credit for that goes to Mary Verney. This final bit of the puzzle needed to be solved shortly after I started my new job at Liverpool City Library, so I handed that over to Mary, who I think did a masterful job in balancing tone, content and form. As an editor myself, I am delighted that the book was in the hands of such a skilful fellow editor.

Were you surprised by any of the responses?Gold

Only in an “Oh my, how delightful/ thrilling/ fascinating/ wonderful/ moving” way. I think, as an editor, that you don’t really invite/commission people who won’t surprise you in some way or another; at least, that’s how I like to work. And a book of this nature can only work if you allow people their head, so to speak—the freedom to explore and surprise. Otherwise, if you’re too rigid in your expectations and requirements, you end up with something homogenous and, dare I say, probably a bit worthy and dull.

I’d say I was surprised by the generosity of the contributors, but I’ve worked in kids’/YA lit for a quarter of a century and this generosity of spirit and the work from writers for young people doesn’t actually surprise me in the slightest.

What have you learned?

That there’s nothing more exciting than walking into a bookstore and seeing your book on the shelves; that there’s nothing more gratifying than reading the words of strangers who have read and appreciated and understood what you’ve set out to achieve.

What else would you like to share?Tan

If you like the book, please seek out the works by the contributors, and buy or borrow their books, and if you’re interested in my writing about children’s and YA literature, there’s more at misrule.com.au/wordpress

And please support the work of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation: http://www.indigenousliteracyfoundation.org.au/

Stepping into Oz Children’s Literature on the Global Stage

I’ve just been presenting about Australian children’s and YA literature at the international IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) Congress in Auckland, New Zealand. This is the first time the conference has been held so far south, it’s usually a preserve of the northern hemisphere. NZ did an excellent job as host.

ColoursAustralian authors and illustrators such as our Children’s Laureate Leigh Hobbs (Mr Chicken, Old Tom), as well as Ursula Dubosarsky (The Golden Day), Bronwyn Bancroft (Colours of Australia), Nadia Wheatley (Papunya, My Place, illustrated by Donna Rawlins) and Marcus Zusak (The Book Thief) were recognised at the conference, alongside international creators.

Legendary NZ author Joy Cowley spoke after a warm traditional Maori welcome by adult and children’s groups. I reviewed Joy’s Speed of Light for the Weekend Australian and one of her famous characters, Mrs Wishy Washy was brought exuberantly to life throughout the conference. Joy’s 80th birthday was also celebrated. Other keynote and major speakers included Whale Rider’s Witi Ihimaera, Ghana’s Meshack Asare and Kate de Goldi (The 10pm Question) whose most recent children’s novel From the Cutting Room of Barney Kettle just won the Esther Glen Junior Fiction Book Award (NZ Book Awards for Children & Young Adults 2016). Kate was also on a panel with the incredible Katherine Paterson and Ursula Dubosarsky, chaired by UK children’s book critic Julia Eccleshare. This session was a highlight.

Sir Richard Taylor and Martin Bayton from Weta Workshop, which was responsible for the animations and effects in movies such as Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Avatar and The Chronicles of Narnia also presented some stunning visuals.  Sir Richard had a useful quote, ‘The art of innovation is to throw yourself at failure and simply miss.’

FlightThe CBCA winners and honour awards were announced just after my presentation, which was chaired by Nadia Wheatley, so it was a privilege to be able to congratulate Nadia on her winning picture book (illustrated by Armin Greder), Flight.

 I presented after speakers from Norway and Sweden and was followed by a Canadian speaker. Exciting to be a part of such diversity. I was thrilled to share books by some of our iconic and talented authors and illustrators including How the Sun Got to Coco’s House by Bob Graham, Fog a Dox by Bruce Pascoe, One Would Think the Deep by Claire Zorn, A Single Stone by Meg McKinlay, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood (which was announced as CBCA winner for Older Readers), The Other Christie by Oliver Phommavanh, MaralingaMaralinga’s Long Shadow by Christobel Mattingley, some verse novels – Another Night in Mullet Town and The Spangled Drongo by Stephen Herrick and Sister Heart by Sally Morgan (announced as a CBCA Honour book), plus a number of other picture books, novels and graphic novels.

We were fortunate that table places weren’t set at the Gala Dinner. People could select where they sat and we had the pleasure of the company of delegates from countries as diverse as Haiti, Japan, South Korea, Norway and Samoa. As a proud Australian I was able to answer the quiz question about which country won the Hans Christian Andersen award (administered by IBBY) in the same year for both author and illustrator.

NargunPatricia Wrightson and Robert Ingpen both won in 1986, the only Australians to have ever won this most prestigious international award.

The final highlight was another coincidental one. We spoke to a distinguished lady before dinner and shared information about where we lived and why we were at the conference. This lady informed us that she is an author. Imagine my shock after asking her name to discover we had been speaking (without realising it) to children’s book royalty, Lynley Dodd, creator of Hairy Maclary!  

Hairy Maclary

Curiously Good Books from Around the World

TimelineGecko Press in New Zealand plays a phenomenal role in discovering, and then making accessible, outstanding children’s books from around the world. Their 2016 publications are from countries as diverse as Sweden, Mexico, Japan and Portugal.

One of the most impressive books I’ve seen for a long time is Timeline: A Visual History of Our World by Peter Goes (Belgium). It is appropriately oversized and I felt a frisson of recollection and excitement when I opened many of the pages, remembering my first encounters with aspects of ancient history all over again. Beginning life, dinosaurs, first people and settlements merge into fascinating cameos of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome and the Byzantine Empire. Ottoman, Chinese, Inca and North American histories are also covered. Modern history and world wars bring us to the present day. Australia’s claim to fame is the band ACDC.

France-based Stephanie Blake returns with the bold, bright colours and clear lines of her popular rabbit, Simon in Super Rabbit.

Don't CrossPortugal shines with Isabel Minhos Martins and Bernardo P. Carvalho’s Don’t Cross the Line! This is an exceptional, innovative postmodern (mainly) visual representation of people who aren’t allowed to cross the line onto the next page due to a pointless rule. It is a telling fable.

What Dog Knows is a cleverly constructed mixture of fact and fiction by Sylvia Vanden Heede and Marije Tolman from the Netherlands, translated by Bill Nagelkerke. It is structured into four sections: Mummies and skeletons; Robots, knights and pirates; Dinosaurs and dragons; and Rockets and the moon.

The delightfully flawed but kind, Detective Gordon, a cake-loving frog, returns in Swedish creators Ulf Nilsson and Gitte Spee’s A Complicated Case. As we are reminded in the detective’s Book of Law, ‘It is permitted to be nice but forbidden to be nasty’.

DaniAlso from Sweden is the poignant story of Dani in Life According to Dani by Rose Lagercrantz and Eva Eriksson, both highly awarded children’s book creators. This chapter book continues Dani’s realistic life, here dealing with her response to her father’s new girlfriend.

From Mexico is Paula Bossio’s board book, The Pencil (also called The Line). Deliberate smudges create texture and dimension alongside the fascinating pencil line followed by a young girl.

Yours Sincerely, Giraffe is a heartwarming, yet edgy tale of new friendships from Japan by Megumi Iwasa and Jun Takabatake. It’s unpredictable yet highly satisfying.

And we finish in Israel with Michal Shalev’s hilarious How to Be Famous. FamousThe pigeon is completely oblivious to her true level of fame.

Thanks for making these astounding books available to a wide readership, Gecko Books.

Mrs Whitlam

Dark emuAustralian Indigenous authors are writing significant works of fiction, telling their own stories in their own voices. Writers for adults include Kim Scott, Alexis Wright, Melissa Lukashenko, Ali Cobby Eckermann, Larissa Behrendt and Tara June Winch.

There are also prominent and emerging Indigenous authors writing for children and young adults, including inaugural Australian Children’s Laureate, Boori Monty Pryor; Bronwyn Bancroft, whose work will be celebrated at the IBBY conference in Auckland in August; Dub Leffler with Once There was a Boy; Brenton McKenna; Sue McPherson; Elaine Russell; Anita Heiss; Jared Thomas; Ambelin Kwaymullina; Ambelin’s mother, Sally Morgan; and Bruce Pascoe.

Sally Morgan is currently shortlisted for the CBCA awards with her verse novel about stolen children, Sister Heart, and Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu was joint winner with Ellen van Neerven of the 2016 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards inaugural Indigenous Writers’ Prize. Pascoe’s book also won overall Book of the Year. These names and others unite to form a potent “who’s who” of contemporary Australian writers.

FogBruce Pascoe’s novel for middle school (upper primary and junior secondary) Fog a Dox won the 2013 Prime Minister’s Literary Award in the young adult category.

I reviewed his next novel for younger readers, Seahorse for the Sydney Morning Herald.

His recent novel for children Mrs Whitlam is another incisive, unsentimental tale. Marnie Clark is given a horse named Mrs Whitlam. The horse’s former owner, Vicki, has died and her mother can’t bear to have the horse around as a reminder of her loss. Marnie would prefer another name but she knew her mum would say, ‘You should be proud to have a horse named after that lady – she was a wonderful woman, her old man wasn’t a bad bloke, either, even if he was Prime Minister. Did a fair bit for black people too!’

Marnie is bullied and harassed at times but the cause may not necessarily be because she is Aboriginal. Indie a girl from pony club, for example, feels she has to be better than anyone, and Marnie may be a threat because of her skilled riding.

mrs_whitlam_high_res_Marnie has a blissful experience riding Mrs Whitlam (Maggie) to the river and sea. Owning a horse gives freedom. But her beach escapade becomes terrifying when she and Maggie save a drowning baby. A family BBQ with popular George follows, but the book’s conclusion is strangely abrupt.

This is a clear-sighted story for readers in primary school and I particularly appreciate how Bruce Pascoe depicts Aboriginal children and families as being like everyone else. Like Tony Birch’s recent work, Pascoe allows the characters’ Aboriginality to remain in the background without ignoring it. They are strong characters in their own right.

The excellent Magabala Press has published all of Bruce’s books mentioned and I have previously interviewed Bruce for Boomerang Books Blog.Seahorse

 

Who is Oliver Phommavanh’s The Other Christy?

olivercomic1Oliver Phommavanh’s new novel for children, The Other Christy has just been published by Penguin Random House.

It has a very appealing storyline and characters, voices some important issues with a light touch, and is told with the author’s trademark big heart and humour.

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, Oliver.

No worries Joy.

Where are you based and how involved are you in the children’s lit world? (you often seem to be on a stage …!)

I’m based in Cabramatta, South-West Sydney. I’ve been fortunate to appear in many writers festivals and school literature festivals across Australia. I’m involved with organisations such as the CBCA Northern Sydney Sub branch and SCBWI as well. I’m also an ambassador for Room To Read, a non-profit organization that brings literacy to developing countries.

How is this related to being a stand-up comedian?

I love making people laugh, so I divide my time doing kids comedy in my books and adults comedy on the stage.

How else do you spend your time?

I’m a lifelong gamer so I try to play video games in my downtime. I also like jogging and hanging out with friends.

Tell us about The Other Christy.Other Christy

It’s a story of two girls named Christy in a class. It’s a friendship between a quiet girl with loud thoughts and a popular girl who discovers that she’s quite lonely.

Who particularly do you hope reads it?

Anyone who might feel a little strange or weird. I hear them, I want to be a voice for all those kids who feel left out.

Have you come across kids with the same name in a class or somewhere? How did people differentiate them? Was one called ‘the other Oliver’ or something similar?

I was the only Oliver in my primary and high school days, but Oliver’s a popular name now so I got lucky. I’ve taught classes with kids with the same name and we usually went with their last name, like Matthew Brown and Matthew Galway.

Is it more fun to write about the mean kids or the others?

I have fun writing about the other kids, especially the ones who blend in the background. Mainly because they usually have something unusual or strange about them.

I’ve read a memoir recently where the church was the most helpful group in helping new refugees. Someone from the church also helped Christy and her Grandpa find somewhere to live. How true to life or typical is this?

I drew from experiences from my own church, we are one of many churches out in south-west Sydney that have welcomed new arrivals and have helped them settle in the community.

Thai No MiteYou write a lot about food in this book. What’s your favourite food mentioned/not mentioned?

My favourite dessert is chocolate brownies, which is mentioned in the book. My favourite food is pizza, burgers and hot chips, which have been featured in my other books haha

What happened at the launch of The Other Christy? Was there good food?

It was a delightful afternoon with plenty of loved ones, friends and fans. You bet there was delicious food hehe. There were loads of sweet treats for our cake stall. My wife and extended family made a lot of the treats, so it was all made with love!

How is this book different from your others? Thai riffic

This is the first book with a main character that isn’t a part of me. It’s a story where I’ve had to draw from my own observations as a primary school teacher, teaching shy students like Christy.

Have you received any responses from readers about The Other Christy that particularly resonate with you?

I’ve spoken to many kids who are in a class with another person with the same name. Some become friends, others are more like friendly rivals. I’ve also had kids come up to me and can relate to Christy and her desire to find a best friend.

Which Australian authors do you admire?

My biggest influences are Morris Gletizman, Paul Jennings and Andy Griffiths.

ConNerdWhat have you enjoyed reading?

I’m currently reading The Other Side of Summer by Emily Gale. I’ve finished The Enemy series by Charlie Higson with the last book, fittingly titled ‘The End.’

Thanks and all the best with The Other Christy and your other books, Oliver.

My pleasure!

The 2016 CBCA Early Childhood Picture Books

Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas by Aaron Blabey (Scholastic Press) begins,

‘Hey there, guys. Would you like a banana? Piranhas

What’s wrong, Brian? You’re a piranha.

Well, how about some silverbeet?

Are you serious Brian? We eat feet.

Or would you rather a bowl of peas?

Stop it Brian. We eat knees.

Well, I bet you’d like some juicy plums?

That’s it, Brian! We eat bums!’

This gives an idea of the ‘Blabeyesque’ humour. The book also promotes healthy eating.

PerfectPerfect by Danny Parker & Freya Blackwood (Hardie Grant Egmont) is a story about being inside and outside. There’s plenty of drawing, art and creativity and even a picture from Freya Blackwood’s book Maudie and Bear on the wall.

Many of the activities, such as drawing outside with chalk, could be emulated by children to also make a perfect day.

My Dog Bigsy by Alison Lester (Penguin Random House) is similar in illustrative style to the author’s Noni the Pony books. A dog, Bigsy, sleeps quietly with a little girl at night but barks around the farm in the morning. He chases the cockatoos out of the orchard. He sends the kangaroos back over the fence. He talks to the horses and they ‘Neigh! Whinny! Snort!’ back. He herds ducks into the dam and they complain.Bigsy

The girl hears Bigsy spooking the sheep: ‘I bet those sheep are running away.’ But the pigs aren’t scared of Bigsy.

The story is very auditory – the girl hears all Bigsy’s noises and knows his routine even before she gets up.

Directionality is unobtrusively taught by how the animals and birds face right at the start. This leads the eye and prompts the reader to turn the page.

The map endpapers have dotted lines with arrows to show the direction of Bigsy’s route, and a dog poster with labels and arrows showing a special scratching spot, silky ears and clickety clackety claws, add appeal.

Ollie and the Wind by Ghosh Ronojoy (Random House Australia) centres on the theme of friendship.Ollie

Ollie lives on an island without many other inhabitants. No people are shown but there are signs of life such as houses on other islands and passing ships. The wind took Ollie’s hat, scarf and balloon but he couldn’t catch the wind to find out why it’s taking some of his things but not others, such as the fire truck. The wind is personified as it gets Ollie’s attention, wanting to play.

The different endpapers are worth comparing. The long horizontal spreads create a sense of space. The patterned surfaces could be compared with Kyle Hughes-Odgers’ On a Small Island.

HuffMr Huff by Anna Walker (Penguin Random House) could also be read and appreciated by older readers. Mr Huff is a cloud-like spectre representing sadness or depression. He grows and diminishes in size according to Bill’s mood. Watercolour, pencil, ink and collage are used to create the illustrations and young readers could spot the differences in the endpapers, particularly by comparing the different versions of protagonist Bill (who wears blue).

The Cow Tripped Over the Moon by Tony Wilson & Laura Wood (Scholastic Press) is a fractured nursery rhyme based on Hey Diddle Diddle, with themes of perseverance and the power of supportive friends.Cow

The cow makes numerous attempts to jump over the moon and it could be interesting for young readers to compare and contrast this version with the original rhyme.

War and the CBCA 2016 Shortlisted Picture Books

War is a recurring theme in the 2016 CBCA shortlisted books and dominates the picture book category.

RideRide Ricardo Ride by Phil Cummings, illustrated by Shane Devries (Omnibus Books, Scholastic Australia) has an Italian war setting, where the soldiers are portrayed as menacing shadows. It particularly looks at the relationship between Ricardo and his father, who work together on Ricardo’s bike  (a major symbol in the book).

The illustrations include panels superimposed over larger digital paintings and strategic cropping of heads, and it looks to be influenced by the artwork of John Brack.

Suri’s Wall by Lucy Estela, illustrated by Matt Ottley (Penguin Random House) has the inevitable sorry pairing of war and refugees.Suri wall

Suri is treated with suspicion by the other children who live with her behind the wall because she is tall. But her height enables her to look over the wall to see the devastation beyond. However, she tells them tales of very different settings inspired by imagination and beauty. Themes include occupation, difference, imagination, resilience, compassion and hope. Books with similar issues and themes are The Cat at the Wall by Deborah Ellis, The Wall by William Sutcliffe and The Kites are Flying by Michael Morpurgo.

FlightFlight by Nadia Wheatley, illustrated by Armin Greder (Windy Hollow Books) has already been shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary awards – the Patricia Wrightson prize. It begins with a small family fleeing into the desert to escape persecution, which parallels the Biblical story of Mary, Joseph and Jesus fleeing to Egypt. It shows how “an ancient story becomes a fable for our times”. The merging of the Biblical story with a contemporary refugee tale has been more than seven years in the making with prominent author Nadia Wheatley (My Place, Papunya) writing many drafts.

And the BandAnd the Band Played Waltzing Matilda by Bruce Whatley & Eric Bogle (Allen & Unwin) is a confronting anti war cry. It is a ballad as a protest song – and is not for young readers. It’s about Gallipoli, although written in response to the Vietnam War. It is structured around the Eric Bogle song, as well as Waltzing Matilda.

The illustrations could be compared with Whatley’s illustrations for Jackie French’s The Beach they Called Gallipoli (digitally manipulated photos & pen in watercolour and acrylic collages). Here the illustrations feature searing line drawings, allusive blood splotches and are dominated by the narrator soldier’s direct gaze.

stepOne Step at a Time by Jane Jolly (who wrote Tea and Sugar Christmas), illustrated by Sally Heinrich (Midnight Sun Publishing), explores the repercussions of land mines in Burma. The illustrations are reproductions of hand coloured lino prints. Panelling (panel strips) and movement lines are used effectively across the cover and elsewhere. Repeated motifs of elephants and other symbols make decorative borders but the underlying issue in this book is not pretty.

My Dead BunnyMy Dead Bunny by Sigi Cohen, illustrated by James Foley (Walker Books) is not a war story in the conventional sense, although it is raising heated views. It is a zombie rabbit tale, told with over the top humour and rhyming couplets: “I poked at Bradley with a stick – his fur was muddy, damp and thick, and in his final resting place, the worms had tried to eat his face”. The illustrations are in digital comic style using a predominately black and white colour scheme with sparing touches of lime and orange.

Phasmid to Rebels: the 2016 CBCA Eve Pownall Information Books

Phasmid: Saving the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect by Rohan Cleave & Coral Tulloch (CSIRO Publishing) Phasmid

Phasmid is the first children’s book published by CSIRO, and they are very excited about its CBCA shortlisting. The Lord Howe Island stick insect was thought to be extinct, eaten by rats, but just enough survived on Balls Pyramid, a rocky outcrop. The tale of the stick insect, including its successful breeding in captivity, is told from its own imagined point of view. Lord Howe Island is one of the most glorious places in the world and it is great to see it showcased in this thoughtful book.

The White Mouse: The Story of Nancy Wake by Peter Gouldthorpe (Omnibus Books, Scholastic Australia) White Mouse

This colourful historical fiction tells the story of Australian female spy, Nancy Wake, who was a pivotal part of the French Resistance in WW2. Her story is told in present tense, rather than the usual past tense for history. Information is recorded on pages torn from a notebook and the illustrations are a combination of full-page spreads and panels. Gouldthorpe uses the illustrative technique of hatching throughout.

The Amazing True Story of how Babies are Made by Fiona Katauskas (ABC Books, HarperCollins) Babies

Katauskas is a political cartoonist for major Australian newspapers. This book includes diversity in race and sexual orientation. It addresses childhood, puberty, intercourse (not under a blanket as many of these type of books have done in the past), fertilisation, multiple births, IVF, sperm and egg donation, the growing baby in the uterus and birth.

The cartoon style is engaging and adds to the humour, which includes egg jokes such as ‘eggspedition’ and ‘eggciting’.

The author’s credo is: ‘Human bodies do all sorts of amazing things, but making little humans is one of the most amazing things of all.’

Lennie the Legend: Solo to Sydney by Pony by Stephanie Owen Reeder (NLA Publishing) lennie

It’s incredible what children could (or can) do! In the 1930s during the Great Depression nine-year old Lennie rode his pony alone to Sydney for the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The trip was 1000km; he was away for four months and faced bushfire and flood. Indomitable! The digitally coloured photographs look impressive.

Ancestry: Stories of Multicultural Anzacs by Robyn Siers (Department of Veteran Affairs)

The introduction is a useful summary of the contents of this informative book. Like Ruth Starke and Robert Hannaford’s My Gallipoli, Ancestry stands out from other books about the Anzacs because of its multicultural focus.

A particularly interesting chapter is about Aboriginal Frank Fisher who lived on the Barambah settlement, north west of Brisbane. As we also learn in Sue Lawson’s novel Freedom Ride, authorities on these settlements controlled the finances, work and even marriages of the Aboriginal residents. Frank was treated as an equal for the first time in WW1 but this didn’t last and he was discriminated against on his return. Even his pay was controlled. His son Frank Junior became a Qld rugby legend but wasn’t allowed to play in England under the 1897 ‘Aboriginal Protection and Restrictions of the sale of Opium Act’. Frank Junior’s granddaughter is Cathy Freeman. Rebels

We are the Rebels by Clare Wright (Text Publishing)

This YA text set on the Ballarat goldfields in the 1850s is adapted from The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, which won the Stella Prize. The original book took ten years to research. Wright has changed the historical record by re-writing history to show the female, Aboriginal, youth and Chinese (the under-represented) versions.

SWF Wrap Up: ‘Going Home’ with Debra Jopson, Beth Yaph and Adam Aitken

A comment that this session ‘Going Home: Belonging, Family and Food’ at the SWF was “up there with some of the most stimulating sessions I attended at the festival” summed up the quality of the discussion and the engagement of the audience at this sold-out session with Debra Jopson, Beth Yahp and Adam Aitken. The Sydney-based authors on this panel were a pleasure to facilitate.

Their latest books could almost be described as political histories even though two are memoirs and one is a novel. They are full of journeys, fascinating facts, family and sensory depictions of home and place. Perhaps surprisingly, they are as much about Australia as they are about Lebanon, Malaysia and Thailand.

OliverDebra Jopson is a journalist. She’s been an investigative reporter, focusing on social and Aboriginal issues. She has won the prestigious Walkley award for journalism and Human Rights Commission honours.

There’s been lots of media interest in Debra’s debut novel, Oliver of the Levant which draws on Debra’s experiences of living in Beirut for two years as a young adult during the start of the civil war in Lebanon in the 1970s.

Her protagonist Oliver is a multifaceted 15 year old who desperately seeks a parent to love him and give him boundaries.

He runs wild in Beirut.

His attempts to romance an older Lebanese girl and his fascination with making bombs have explosive consequences.

Eat FirstBeth Yaph grew up in Malaysia and lived in Paris for five years, as well as in Australia. She’s part Thai, part Chinese and part Eurasian but even that’s not an completely accurate description of her heritage.

She studied Communications at UTS and has worked as an editor and teacher of creative writing at university level. She is an accomplished presenter, formerly hosting a travel program on ABC Radio National.

I first knew of Beth’s work through her novel The Crocodile Fury and her interest in music, explored in her memoir, has been showcased by the libretto she wrote, Moon Spirit Feasting.

Her memoir Eat First, Talk Later describes a road trip with her elderly parents trying to retrace their honeymoon trip. There are many diversions along the way – literal changes of direction – as well as diversions into the near past of Beth’s childhood and further back into her parents’ youth and the history of Malaysia.

AitkenFC_grandeAdam Aitken also has a fascinating heritage.

His Australian father worked in advertising and became a landscape architect and gardener.

His Australian grandfather was a soldier.

His mother was a beauty and university student from Bangkok.

His Thai grandfather was a governor’s deputy and his great-grandfather a fortune-teller and magician.

His Thai grandmother had nine children and loved chewing betel nut.

Adam was born in London. He lived in Thailand, Malaysia & Australia. As a young man he returned to Thailand to become ‘a real Thai’.

He studied English literature at Sydney University and now works as a researcher in writing at UTS. I first became aware of Adam’s work when I was promoting the poetry anthology he co-edited, Asian Australian Poets.

His memoir One Hundred Letters Home is a very frank depiction about his family and his life as the offspring of parents from Australia and Thailand.

It was quite a tricky brief to combine two memoirs set mainly in Asia and a novel about a boy in Lebanon but a synergy happened on stage and discussion flowed. Thanks to Adam, Debra and Beth.

YA at the SWF: Vikki Wakefield and the Best and Worst Years of our Lives

Vikki WakefieldLast week I spent three days with four top YA writers at the Sydney Writers Festival. We travelled from Roslyn Packer Theatre at the Wharf in the city, to Parramatta Riverside Theatre and our third day was at the Chatswood Concourse. These enormous venues were filled with secondary students from schools in Sydney and further afield.

Our two international author guests were John Boyne (Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Boy at the Top of the Mountain) and Michael Grant (Gone, Front Lines) and one of our Australian authors was Claire Zorn whose publication of her new novel One Would Think the Deep was rushed forward in time for the SWF.

Our other Australian writer was Vikki Wakefield.

Vikki Wakefield spoke about how being a teenager can be the best – or worst – years of our life. Vikki spoke honestly and vulnerably about once being voted the girl least likely to succeed, failing high school but learning to discover the extraordinary in life.

She lives in the Adelaide Hills and loved horses when she was growing up. She has written some short film scripts and does party tricks, one of which she demonstrated on stage after a request by the audience.

Her novels are mainly for mature YA readers.

Her first two YA novels All I Ever Wanted and Friday Brown have won awards and Friday Brown was shortlisted for the prestigious Prime Minister’s Award and CBCA award.

One girl in the audience declared that Friday Brown changed her life. Friday Brown

I think that Vikki must be nocturnal and I’m guessing that she always refused to go to the movies at the cinema and would go to the drive-in instead. Drive-ins feature in Vikki’s latest novel Inbetween Days.

Vikki sets this novel in an Australian town, with the thought provoking name of ‘Mobius’.

The main character is 17 year old Jack (nickname for Jacklin) who’s left school and her life seems pretty meaningless but she hopes for a better future.

Jack tries to keep her secret relationship with Luke alive. But she really wants to be loved both privately and openly.

Jeremiah seems to offer love but can he cope with Jack?

Vikki creates Jack as being vulnerable yet tough, knowing yet naïve.

Can Jack summon enough self-esteem, resilience and drive to turn her life around?

Vikki’s writing has an understated tone and style that seems particularly Australian. Her characters act like young Australians do and incidents occur realistically, such as the events in the derelict drive-in theatre and in the nearby forest, which are surprising without hyperbole.

Inbetween Days (Text Publishing) has just been shortlisted for the CBCA awards. Congratulations to Vikki for her vulnerable writing and authentic characters.

All I Ever Wanted

Protectors of Secret Natural Places: Tony Birch and Inga Simpson

TreesI was very fortunate to chair a session with Inga Simpson and Tony Birch at the Sydney Writers Festival.

They both have had books long or short listed for the prestigious Miles Franklin award. Tony’s Ghost River is currently longlisted.

It was also shortlisted for two categories in this year’s NSW Premier’s Awards: the Christina Stead prize for fiction and the newly created Indigenous Prize.

Tony and Inga both know their way around universities, as well as being accomplished fiction writers who take us on secret, sensory journeys with their young characters, particularly into natural ‘inbetween’ places, around rivers and trees.

I was first aware of Inga’s writing when her debut novel, Mr Wigg was shortlisted for the Indies awards. I remember the ripples that her lyrical writing about an elderly man in his orchard caused in the literary community.

The writing in her second novel Nest is also the equivalent of fine slow-cooking with its depiction of Jen’s life in a sub-tropical forest but it is utterly captivating and suspenseful at the same time. Nest

Her new novel Where the Trees Were also has evocative descriptions of place – the river and trees.

A group of boys and one girl, Jay, spend their summer holidays before starting high school in the bush, mainly around the river. They find a circle of trees that seem to be out of time and world. Designs are carved into their trunks. Are they a story or code?

The parts of the story about Jay as a girl are told in first person. We also meet her as an adult in Canberra, told in third person.

The indolence of quite an idyllic childhood, although charged with the urgency of adolescence, changes to a harder-edged anticipation and anxiety when a conservationist, (we’re not immediately told her name is Jayne) is involved in stealing a carved Indigenous artifact, an arborglyph, a Wiradjuri burial tree.

Tony Birch’s writing is assured, direct and unpretentious.

I was very moved by his novel Blood, particularly the strength of character and loving heart of his young part- Aboriginal protagonist, Jesse.

His most recent novel is Ghost River, set in the 1960s where the intersected lives of two adolescent boys and the dispossessed river men play out alongside the Yarra River. Ghost River

Storytelling and the changes and roils of life are intrinsic to this novel, reflected in Tony’s own virtuosic story-telling style which moves from energy and adventure to trouble, pathos and weariness and back again like the river itself.

I wonder how much of his own boyhood Tony has drawn upon to create his lively characters Ren, and particularly Sonny.

Mr Wigg

Australian YA: Meet Kylie Fornasier and The Things I Didn’t Say

Kylie Fornasier’s new YA novel The Things I Didn’t Say has just been published by Penguin Books.Things I Didn't Say

It’s about seventeen-year-old Piper who has changed schools at the start of Year Twelve in the hope of a new start, particularly of finding her voice.

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, Kylie.

Hi! It’s my pleasure to be talking with you.

Where are you based and how involved are you in the YA and children’s lit world?

I’m live in the beautiful Hawkesbury area, north-west of Sydney. I’m a strong supporter of the LoveOzYa movement and I try to be as involved as I can be.

What’s your working background and how else do you spend your time?

I’m a primary school teacher librarian, so between working that job, writing and trying to be a proper adult by keeping the house clean, I don’t have a lot of time left to spend doing other things. But I do always make time for family and friends, the occasional episode of The 100 and yoga.

What inspired you to write The Things I Didn’t Say?

I came up with the idea for The Things I Didn’t Say when I was reading books like Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell and The Fault in our Stars by John Green. I was fascinated by the way everyone approaches love from a different angle. Some people are really open to falling in love, some aren’t. Some people think love lasts forever, others don’t. Some people believe in love at first sight, and so on. The way you approach love depends on so many things about a person. This led me to ask the question, if you couldn’t speak, how would that effect the first time you fall in love?

Kylie Fornasier
Kylie Fornasier

Could you tell us something about your setting and main characters?

17-year-old Piper has been dealing with a condition called Selective Mutism for most of her life. This is a condition where someone who is normally capable of speaking finds themselves unable to speak in most social situations. So at home, Piper can speak normally with her family but as soon as she is around someone else or outside the home, she is silent. She changes schools at the start of Year 12, hoping for a fresh start and on her first day she meets West. He is the school captain, star soccer player, the boy everyone talks about. But although his life seems perfect, he struggles to make his voice heard. As you might’ve guessed, they fall in love without Piper ever speaking one word to West. But the question is, can a love mapped by silence last?

What draws hot School Captain, West, to Piper?

West meets Piper for the first time in German and is drawn to her by her contractions. She studies a subject that mostly requires speaking and the first thing he notices about Piper is that she doesn’t speak. She seems quite anxious but there’s also a gentle confidence he notices about her. On top of that, she is beautiful, new and mysterious. He wants to know more about her.

Why have you given Piper photography as her major interest (rather than another visual or other art form such as music)?

I’ve always believed the cliché that a picture speaks a thousand words. For Piper, photography is her way of speaking. However, she only ever takes photos of the bush near her house. She comes to learn that she has much more to say than she realises. I don’t think I ever deliberately choose photography over another visual art form. One of the first images I got in my mind of Piper was a girl with a camera around her neck and that stuck.

Piper is a skilled German student. What’s your favourite German word? 

It would have to be ‘ohrwurm’, which translate to ‘earworm’ and relates to having a song stuck in your head. Though, for me it’s often a story or a character.

What’s the importance of forgiveness in your story?

Forgiveness is very important in The Things I Didn’t Say. Not only in terms of forgiving others but forgiving yourself.

I know it’s only just been published but have you received any responses from young readers about The Things I Didn’t Say that particularly resonate with you?

Oh gosh, so many! What has resonated so strongly with me is the way that people are emotionally connecting with the characters and story. I keep hearing how the story has made people cry in public and go through boxes of tissues. There are also people who emailing trees now (you have to read the book to find out the significance of this – yes, it is a real thing!) and leaving Post-It notes in copies of The Things I Didn’t Say that they come across in bookshops. It’s hearing about these responses that make it all worth it.

What advice would you give to people who prefer not to express themselves verbally or are shy?

It depends how significantly it is affecting their life. If it is impacting their life, then I strongly advise they seek help. They can start by letting someone they trust know what’s going on. There are many services available that can be very successful.

But if it’s not significantly affecting their life, then I simply suggest expressing themselves in the way they feel comfortable, such as through music, writing, sport, art, dance, photography, whatever that may be!

I think it’s important to think of a person as a whole and how certain qualities have both flaws and strengths. If you are a shy person, you’re probably a great listener or a really keen observer. It’s about embracing the qualities we have but also recognising if we do need to seek help.

What else have you written and what are you writing at the moment? 

Prince who shrankI’ve had a couple of books published for children and young adults, including: Masquerade (YA, published by Penguin Books Australia in 2014), The Prince who Shrank (picture book, published by Koala Books in 2015), and The Ugg Boot War (chapter book, published by Omnibus Books in 2014).

At the moment, I’m working on the first book in a funny chapter book series for children. As soon as I’m finished that, hopefully within the next month, I’ll start my next young adult novel.

What have you enjoyed reading?

Since I’m expecting my first child in October, I’ve been reading a lot of books on caring for babies! But in terms of fiction, I’m currently enjoying The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly. I typically read YA and while this book is not YA, I started reading Matthew Reilly books as a teenager and have read every book he has written since.

All the best with The Things I Didn’t Say, and especially with your baby, Kylie.

Thanks so much!

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

CBCA Notables 2016

The CBCA (Children’s Book Council of Australia) Notables (or long lists) have been announced today.

The short lists will be announced on Friday 20th May at the national conference which is held in Sydney this year.

I’ve listed my favourites (of those I’ve read) below:  BOOK OF THE YEAR: EARLY CHILDHOOD

As Big as You by Sara Acton
As Big as You by Sara Acton

I interviewed the delightful Sara Acton for the most recent edition of Magpies magazineAs Big as You opens up vertically instead of the usual horizontal format to show height. Sara is one of our new illustrators to watch.

Janeen Brian and Ann James have produced innovative picture books in I’m a Dirty Dinosaur and I’m a Hungry Dinosaur (which I reviewed here). It is hard to go past mud and chocolate icing as illustrative media.

Some other favourites are Perfect by Danny Parker and Freya Blackwood, This is a Ball by Beck Stanton and Matt Stanton and This & That  by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek.

PICTURE BOOK OF THE YEARFlight

Perfect is nominated again in picture book of the year. Other personal favourites are Flight by Armin Greder and Nadia Wheatley. This impressive book seems to be telling a version of the Nativity story but also becomes a refugee story. And there are parallels between Jesus’ early life and that of a refugee. Matt Ottley is long listed twice: for a story of incarceration and hope in Suri’s Wall, written by Lucy Estela and the incomparable Teacup, a refugee story written by Rebecca Young.

Other standouts are Where’s Jessie? by Anne Spudvilas and Janeen Brian (again), Mr Huff by Anna Walker, Adelaide’s Secret World by Elise Hurst and How the Sun Got to Coco’s House by Bob Graham. This is a really strong list and also includes some non-fiction books such as My Gallipoli by Robert Hannaford and Ruth Starke, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda by Bruce Whatley and Eric Bogle and Platypus by Mark Jackson and Sue Whiting.

THE EVE POWNALL AWARD FOR INFORMATION BOOKS looks particularly strong this year and includes We are the Rebels by Clare Wright, Lennie the Legend by Stephanie Own Reeder, The White Mouse: The Story of Nancy Wake by Peter Gouldthorpe, Atmospheric by Carole Wilkinson, and I could easily go on…

BOOK OF THE YEAR: OLDER READERS My picks are Cloudwish by Fiona Wood, Freedom Ride by Sue Lawson (which has just been shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards), The Beauty is in the Walking by James Moloney, The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex by Gabrielle Williams (also shortlisted for the NSW Prems) and Inbetween Days by Vikki Wakefield, who I am chairing in three sessions at the upcoming SWF. Meg  McKinlay is listed here for A Single Stone, continuing her run of being long and shortlisted in both YA and children’s awards.

MollyMy pick from a mixed bag for BOOK OF THE YEAR: YOUNGER READERS is Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars by Martine Murray, which I reviewed here.

Congratulations to everyone who has been long listed. It’s a great honour and shows recognition of your very deserving books.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Australian YA: Meet Will Kostakis and The Sidekicks

SidekicksWill Kostakis has a great reputation in the world of Australian YA. He seems to be vastly energetic and enthusiastic and is viewed with enormous affection by readers of YA.

Will’s new YA novel The Sidekicks has just been published by Penguin Books Australia.

It’s a poignant, appealing story about three disparate guys in Year Eleven with one thing in common. 
Olympic hopeful swimmer, Ryan is exceptionally well drawn and endearing. 

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, Will.

What’s your background and how else do you spend your time?

I balance my time between working as a freelance journalist and writing books. As my career has developed, I do less of the former and more of the latter, which is a dream come true. I like to keep as active as I can – if I had my way, I’d spend my days stuck to my desk, so I break up long stints at the computer with walks and swims.

Why did you write The Sidekicks?

First ThirdThe First Third was intended as a love letter to families, but one of the more surprising aspects for me was just how much I enjoyed writing the central friendship. I knew I wanted my next book to explore male friendships. That want, coupled with a desire to reflect on what it was like to lose a close friend in high school, inspired me to write The Sidekicks.

Could you tell us about your main characters and how they interact?

I wanted three distinct protagonists, who acted and reacted in three distinct ways. There’s Ryan, the school’s prized athlete, Harley, the smart-arse, and Miles, academic powerhouse slash evil genius. They grieve in different ways, and they don’t get along, at least not at first. The deceased Isaac was sun and they orbited him. The Sidekicks is them rebuilding their lives without someone to orbit and tracing a path back to each other.

What about their mothers? (you write about families with such affirmation)

I am so clearly the product of a single-parent household, and I think my works’ consistent focus on mother-son relationships reflects that. I see YA as books about teens on the edge of the rest of their lives, of adulthood, and you can see that at play with the way the boys relate to their mothers. While Ryan’s is a quiet army (albeit ever-present and suffocating), Harley’s is absent, and Miles’s is so light-hearted and warm, my favourite mother in the book is Sue. She is mourning her son’s death and her passages really epitomise that transition from teen to adult.Kostakis

I know it’s only just been published but have you received any responses from readers about The Sidekicks that particularly resonate with you?

Given the novel has three very different protagonists, it has connected with readers for various reasons, but what resonates with me the most is the way readers have embraced Ryan as he struggles to come out. Writing him gave me the confidence to come out publicly myself. While we’re very different, his journey echoes mine, and to see readers of all ages, genders and sexualities throwing their support behind him… It’s been surreal.

What are you working on at the moment?
Ah, loose lips sink ships! I will say I’m loving it. Hopefully I won’t have to keep it secret much longer.

IlluminaeWhat have you recently enjoyed reading?
I recently finished my second reading of Jay Kristoff and Amie Kauffman’s Illuminae … Even better the second time. There were so many details I missed!

All the best with The Sidekicks, Will.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Indie Book Awards 2016

Charlotte woodThe 2016 Indie Awards presentation, hosted by Allen & Unwin in North Sydney, was filled with warm goodwill, packed with authors, booksellers, publishers and industry professionals.

Independent booksellers do an incredible job in reading and hand-selling Australian literature. They ensure that excellent books that could otherwise be overlooked, reach readers – and these books often go on to become best sellers and recipients of literary awards. Indie bookstores are regarded with great affection by authors and publishers, as are the staff of Leading Edge Books, led by Galina Marinov, who organise the awards.

Some former Book of the Year winners are The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, All That I Am by Anna Funder, The Bush by Don Watson and Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey.

The Indies are the annual vanguard awards and give a strong indication of which books are valued by both the experts and readers. The awards began in 2008 and are growing in stature. In a mark of esteem by the industry, booksellers announce the winners in each category.

The 2016 Fiction winner is Charlotte Wood for The Natural Way of Things (A&U), which I reviewed here. This portrayal of women who have been involved in sexual scandals and are mysteriously incarcerated in the Australian desert is generating vigorous discussion with readers. It is a unique and important novel and it also won overall Book of the Year. Elegant Charlotte Wood was clearly moved in her acceptance speech, recognising the encouragement of booksellers during her career and regarding the award as a high honour.

Magda Szubanski’s memoir Reckoning (Text Publishing) won the Non-Fiction category. There is much to ponder in this well-written book, including the impact of what happens in childhood on the years that follow: particularly in Magda’s case, the secret of her sexuality. Having a father as an assassin is also a fascinating angle.

Salt creekDebut Fiction was won by a very appreciative Lucy Treloar with Salt Creek (Pan Macmillan) from a strong field which included Rush Oh! and Relativity and the Children’s award was won by the prolific Aaron Blabey with The Bad Guys Episode 1  (Scholastic), a change from his extremely popular picture books such as Pig the Pug (which was shortlisted last year).

A new category this year is the Young Adult award. It is certainly worth separating this category from Children’s. The inaugural winner is the very deserving Fiona Wood for Cloudwish  (Pan Macmillan). See my review about Cloudwish in the Weekend Australian: Cloudwish

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/ya-fiction-fiona-wood-rosanne-hawke-julie-murphy-rebecca-stead/news-story/adcead8f4a48206533f04d6789984d1f 

Both the Australian and the SMH reported on this year’s Indies Award.

And more can be found about the Indies Awards here.

Thanks to all the organisers and those involved.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Australian YA: Meet Helen Chebatte and Bro

Helen CHelen Chebatte’s debut novel Bro has just been published by Hardie Grant Egmont.

It’s a riveting story and has an authenticity that young adults will respond to.

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, Helen.

Where are you based and how involved are you in the YA and children’s lit world?

Hello Boomerang Books!

I live in Sydney, Australia.

I love reading children’s and YA books and have been involved for a long time. Whether I’m attending festivals or seminars or reading the latest news in the children’s and YA world, I try to stay in touch. Bro is my first YA novel so now I’m seeing the children’s and YA lit world from another angle too. Visiting bookshops as an author and speaking at writing festivals is very exciting.

What’s your working background and how else do you spend your time?

I’m an actor. I’ve worked professionally in film, television and theatre for many years. Some of my credits include roles on Crownies, Deadly Women, the feature film Cedar Boys and the romantic comedy Alex and Eve. I also taught drama for a few years but these days I spend most of my time writing.

When I’m not working, one of my favourite leisure activities is going on long drives.

BroWhat inspired you to write Bro

Having Syrian heritage and growing up in a multicultural community, I was always excited by the mix of culture and language. I like seeing people with ethnic backgrounds represented in literature (and film) It’s important everyone feels they have a place in this world.

Could you tell us something about your main characters?

Romeo Makhlouf is a Lebanese-Australian teenager who is conflicted about his identity and his place in the school yard. He’s a gentle person who prefers to mind his own business. He adores his grandmother and has a lot of admiration for his best friend Diz. Diz on the other hand is confident, outspoken and funny. Not one to take things seriously, he’ll crack a joke whenever he sees fit. He won’t let anyone disrespect him and he’s super loyal to Romeo.

How do you know and can write characters like these?

As mentioned, I grew up in a multicultural neighbourhood. I knew, and still know many boys like Romeo and Diz as well as many of the other characters in Bro.

Have you received any responses from young readers about Bro that particularly resonate with you?

People talk about how Bro has touched them and there is a sense of need to talk further about what happened in the book. They mention how realistic the plot line is even though it’s a work of fiction, and how prevailing the themes of Australian identity and racial rivalry are today. Many also feel hopeful because conversation about these themes has been initiated. I want to say more but I’m in danger now of spoilers…

What are you writing at the moment?

I’ve started my second YA novel and I’m revisiting a children’s picture book text that I started quite a few years ago.

Sea HeartsWhat have you enjoyed reading? 

So many! I loved reading the YA novels Sea Hearts and Tender Morsels, both by Margo Lanagan. Into that Forest by Louis Nowra is another favourite. All the Truth that’s in Me by Julie Berry is also great. Forgotten by Cat Patrick was a page turner. Nona and Me by Claire Atkins is a recent gem. Then there’s the Young Reader novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick which I adored – illustrations are beautiful! In the adult genre I thoroughly enjoyed The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, The Shifting Fog by Kate Morton, Bitter Greens by Kate Forsythe and Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. I could keep listing forever – so many great books out there.

Thanks for your insightful responses and all the best with Bro, Helen.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Great Australian Fantasy: Meet Jaclyn Moriarty, author of A Tangle of Gold

 

A Tangle of GoldJaclyn Moriarty’s ‘The Colours of Madeleine’ trilogy (Pan Macmillan), beginning with A Corner of White and The Cracks in the Kingdom (which I reviewed here) and now concluding in A Tangle of Gold, is one of Australia’s great fantasy series. Jaclyn has also written some other fascinating YA novels, in their own unique sub-genre.

Thanks for speaking to Boomerang Books, Jaclyn.

– Thank you for having me!

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

 – I live in Sydney where there’s a strong YA community. (I think there’s an even stronger one in Melbourne, but we are catching up.) I see other YA writers at festivals, conferences and schools sometimes and, in the last few months, I’ve walked across the Harbour Bridge with Justine Larbalestier a few times, and had hot chocolate with Kirsty Eagar. I don’t believe in ‘networking’ at all: it’s very important to me that friendship and socializing be genuine, and not motivated by career goals.  Life is too short and friendship is too important. But there are so many lovely, funny, intelligent YA writers in Australia (and in the world generally), that it’s a real pleasure to mix with them, and to talk to them about writing and books. I’d like to go to more YA social events but I have a 9-year-old and getting a babysitter can be tricky.

What interesting thing is happening to you at the moment?

I’m sitting outside my 9-year-old’s electric guitar lesson. I just wasted five minutes trying to find an app on my phone to record a few seconds of the lesson so that I could use that as an illustration to this answer. But I couldn’t find it. I need the 9-year-old to tell me where it is.

Feeling Sorry for CeliaYour books have won and been shortlisted for numerous awards and are popular in Australia as well as overseas. Which of your books started making people pay attention?

 – I was lucky that my first book, Feeling Sorry for Celia, was a number 1 bestseller in Australia and won the NSW Premier’s Award (Ethel Turner Prize), so I had a kind of crazy start. But I think it was my second book, Finding Cassie Crazy (published in the US as The Year of Secret Assignments) that seemed to catch people’s attention both here and overseas.

Your recent trilogy ‘The Colours of Madeleine’ which now concludes with A Tangle of Gold is fantasy with ‘realism … ingeniously wedged’ into it but even your realist novels have an elated sensitivity and glee. Do you recall any examples?

Bindy Mackenzie – (I like that ‘elated sensitivity and glee’ phrase very much – thank you!) I never really like the idea of writing straight realism. It’s kind of like photorealist art: it’s very skillful but what’s the point? You can just take a photo. Also, I don’t like rules. I get restless and want to go outside the borders. So you are right that even my realistic books were never very realistic. In Feeling Sorry for Celia, the main character gets letters from imaginary organisations like the Cold Hard Truth Society; in Bindy Mackenzie, there’s a highly unlikely murder mystery; and in Dreaming of Amelia, there’s a ghost.

 ‘The Colours of Madeleine’ trilogy is set both in the Kingdom of Cello and the World – particularly in Cambridge, England where Madeleine lives. Why Cambridge – you seem to know it well?

 – I lived in Cambridge for three years in the late 90s when I was doing a PhD in Law. It was a strangely dreamy time: punting on the river, going to classes in castles, deer crossing my lawn, owls in the tree outside my bedroom window, tulips in the marketplace, being able to go to Paris on the train for a weekend for a few quid…

Madeleine receives letters from Cello through a crack in a parking meter. We find out about the fascinating places in Cello such as Bonfire in the Farms, Nature Strip, Cat Walk and Jagged Edge. Do you imagine yourself inside the Kingdom of Cello? Where would you live?

– I spend a lot of time imagining myself living in the Kingdom of Cello. If I did live there I think I would move around a lot. When I felt like a party I would go to Jagged Edge, when I wanted magic and snow, to the Magical North, and when I was hungry, to the Farms. They are very good bakers in the Farms.

A Corner of WhiteYou also invite us into this beguiling world through descriptions of its Living Colours such as Colour storms caused by vicious Greys and Purples; Lime Greens and Spitting Fuchsias. Are there some details about the Colours that you would have loved to include in the trilogy but couldn’t fit in (this will also be some solace for those of us who want to live in Cello)?

– I made a giant table of colours and their effects, so a lot of them missed out on making it into the book. I would have liked to use a very Pale Apricot. It floats through towns making everybody smooth-skinned and dewy-eyed. Although now that I think about it that sounds a bit like an ad for a skin product.

Spaces between Worlds are intriguing. What interests you about spaces in-between?

– My earlier books were written in letters and notes, and I was always intrigued by the space between those letters and notes. There is so much story in silence and in expectation. So when I started this trilogy, and the two characters started exchanging letters between worlds, I was drawn to the fact that the space between their letters had actual substance. It was also the space between their worlds: they were right beside each other and a universe apart, and it was this impossible space that was preventing their connection.

Can you tell us something about one or more of the historical figures you’ve written into the trilogy?

-I liked the fact that Byron spent some years sleeping all day, riding through the forest in the evening, then talking to friends all night long. Conversation in the night with close friends is very appealing to me: it can be a perfect way to connect. I also liked the fact that Leonardo da Vinci used to go into pet stores, buy all the birds, and set them free.

How would you describe your writing style?

– My writing always seems determined to turn itself into letters and notes, even when I’m determined that it won’t.

A Tangle of Gold is structured into Parts. Could you share how you’ve formed these?

– I spent a year planning the trilogy overall, and then about a year between books re-planning each. There were many different versions of each plan. I wanted Elliot, Madeleine and Keira to have room to move in this novel, so I let them take turns having their own Parts.

Your plot pacing bends boundaries in novel writing. Could you give us an example?

– Thank you! I’m too modest to answer this question.

Quick questions to answer without thinking too much:Moriarty Jaclyn med[1]

 Your favourite colour? yellow

Favourite word? bewildered

Introvert of extrovert? introvert

Do you get your ideas while speaking or writing? A bit of both but mainly I get ideas while I’m half-asleep or looking at the sea. Also I get ideas by drawing pictures, and writing down questions addressed to myself using coloured texas and big bubble letters, and as a consequence of eating chocolate.

Madeleine or Keira? They’re both different parts of me but if I had to choose, Madeleine

Science or magic? Magic.

Light or dark?   I want to say dark because I like stars, moon, shadows and so on, but I’m mostly an extreme optimist so I think that means light.

ClarielWhat else are you enjoying reading? At the moment I’m reading Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Steward, which I am loving. And recently I have read and loved The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and his Ex by Gabrielle Williams, The Burning Elephant by Christopher Raja, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood, Clariel by Garth Nix, and the manuscript of my sister Liane’s latest book, Truly, Madly Guilty. Next I’m going to read My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier and Summer Skin by Kirsty Eagar.

Thanks very much for your responses, as well as your wonderful writing, Jaclyn.

– Thank YOU so much for your kind words, and your unique questions!

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Surrealism and Wes-Quez with Leanne Hall & Iris and the Tiger

Thanks for speaking to Boomerang Books, Leanne.

Once you read Leanne’s fascinating responses, you’ll rush to read her books.

Ursula-and-SunflowerWhere are you based and how involved in the children’s and YA literary community are you?

I’m based in Melbourne, which is luckily a very bookish and literary city. My involvement in the kids and YA community is as an author, reader and bookseller. I work in an independent bookshop, where I can often be found in the children’s and YA section, chatting with customers and staff members about what we’ve been reading. There’s also a great camaraderie among writers of books for young people – we go to each other’s launches and talks, we see each other at festivals, we have coffees to talk shop, and we read and comment on each other’s work.

You seem to lead an exotic life. What interesting thing is happening to you at the moment?

Sometimes it feels exotic, and other times it feels plain weird! At the moment I’m living with my partner in a 1970s Glendale caravan in my friend’s inner city backyard. It’s an experiment in small, simple and cheap living. No doubt a caravan is going to show up in one of my stories soon…

This is Shyness, your first YA novel, is one of my absolute favourites. How did you create its incredible atmosphere?This is Shyness 2

Thank you, it’s still a surprise to me how much people liked This Is Shyness. I get obsessed with my own ideas, but it’s amazing to me that others also find them interesting. This Is Shyness was the first novel I managed to finish, and it’s full of the fire and passion and experiences of my youth. I suppose its atmosphere comes from ten years of cycling around at nighttime with my friends having adventures!

What is your favourite type of art and why?

Unsurprisingly, my favourite type of art is anything surreal and absurd and dreamlike in nature, whether that’s painting or photography or sculpture. Some of it is older work, and some of it is very contemporary. While writing Iris, I kept a Pinterest board full of my favourite images to use as inspiration. (https://www.pinterest.com/lilymandarin/iris-and-the-tiger/) If I have writer’s block, or I’m feeling uninspired, I’ll often visit galleries to recharge my battery.

How have you used art in Iris and the Tiger (Text Publishing)?

Art is in every scene of Iris and the Tiger: either inspiring or driving the fantastical events that happen, or literally there on the walls to be described. I browsed art books to decide what real paintings could be turned into strange things that might exist on a mysterious country estate, and then I also had to turn myself into a hypothetical Surrealist painter and make up paintings that don’t exist in real life.

Iris and the TigerHow did you select which elements to make surreal? Why the sunflowers and music notes rather than, say, furniture, books or a garden fountain?

Some of the most surreal elements in the book come from real life paintings. The sunflowers are inspired by Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Dorothea Tanning – a truly spooky painting where a sleepwalking girl’s hair stands on end while a massive sunflower lies indolently at the top of a staircase. The strange creepy-crawly music notes come from Dali’s Partial Hallucination: Six Apparitions of Lenin on a Grand Piano. Mostly, I tried not to force the surreal elements; I would write scenes and wait for something odd to disrupt them.

How carefully did you balance the realist elements of the plot with the surreal touches?

I focused very hard on Iris’s personal experience of traveling to Spain for the first time as a way of grounding the story. I really wanted the reader to feel how exciting and intimidating that might be for her. With that solid ground laid, I could allow surreal things to come in for short periods of time and turn things upside down (sometimes literally).

How important is Iris’s racial background to the story?

It’s both really important, and not important at all. It’s important to me personally, because I never had the chance to read about a Chinese-Australian character when I was younger. So it’s me fulfilling a need I had as a young reader. But it’s NOT important in the sense that her family background isn’t an “issue” to be explored, it isn’t the dominant feature of Iris’s character or her story, it’s simply that heroines should come in every shape and form, and frequently don’t.

What does she learn about friendship?

For me, despite all the surrealism and magic, the real point of the story is friendship. Iris is struggling with the fact that her best friend at home is losing interest in her, and that they’re growing apart (a common thing to happen at this age, I think). But at Bosque de Nubes she forges new friendships across national and age (and species!) boundaries. She becomes firm friends with Jordi, a Spanish boy her age, connects with an older, cooler American girl, Willow, and bonds with her much older great-aunt, Ursula. It’s nice to know that friendships can be found everywhere, with surprising people.

A comment after the review of Iris and the Tiger on the Boomerang Blog wonders if you are creating a new genre. Are you and what could the genre be called?

I do feel as if my writing is very difficult to categorise. I’ve most often heard it referred to as magic realism. After writing the two Shyness books, I named my writing style “reality made strange”, but I recently read a review of Iris that described it as `the lovechild of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Wes Anderson’. So, yes, let’s make up a new genre called `Wes-quez”!

Have you played the surrealist game of Exquisite Corpse and, if so, how successful was it?

I did play Exquisite Corpse in the writing of this book, and it was successful only because of other people! I’m similar to Iris in that I’m not very confident with drawing, so I do cringe at the parts I’ve drawn. My advice for successful Exquisite Corpse-playing is to find some people who can draw to play with!

What else are you enjoying reading? 

I have just read Summer Skin by Kirsty Eagar and My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier – two very different and very excellent books. I read everything that Kirsty and Justine write. I feel like this year is going to see a lot of good new Aussie YA hit the shelves, so I’m looking forward to supporting my colleagues’ great work.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

Thank you so much for your thoughtful questions. I’ve been alone with Iris and the Tiger for so long that it’s wonderful to hear how readers have been engaging with it.

Thanks very much, Leanne. I hope to meet you again soon.

Meet Tristan Bancks, Australian children’s and YA writer

Meet Tristan Bancks, whose latest book is My Life and Other Exploding ChickensMac Slater

Thanks for speaking to Boomerang Books, Tristan.

It’s fantastic that one of my favourites of your works, Mac Slater Coolhunter is available again.

Your books have won awards and are also extremely popular. Which of your books or series is most popular and which do you consider your finest achievement? (What awards have you won?)

Two WolvesTwo Wolves and My Life & Other Stuff I Made Up are the biggest sellers, I think. As a complete novel, Two Wolves is the best book I’ve written. It’s the most layered and took me five years to write. In terms of awards it was a CBCA Honour book, won the KOALA and YABBA kids’ choice awards and was nominated for the PM’s Literary Awards, all of which were an extraordinary surprise.

Where are you based and how involved in the children’s and YA literary community are you?

I’m based near Byron Bay but I’m very involved in the community in terms of festivals, good relationships with other authors, publishing folk, librarians and illustrators. The web makes it possible, and kids’ authors have so many opportunities to connect at festivals and events throughout the year. It is a genuinely fine bunch of humans.

What correlation is there between having been an actor and now a children’s book author?

There are quite a few of us – Aaron Blabey, Felice Arena, Judy Nunn and many more. I think it’s useful when writing dialogue and also in terms of imagining yourself into the character’s situation as you write. You need to be able to see and hear and feel and taste and smell the predicament a character is in and render it authentically on the page. An actor’s imagination and improvisation can help with this. Actors learn to play against emotion, too, in order to avoid melodrama. I’m sure that acting helps when bringing the story to life in front of an audience, too.

Do you spend more time writing or in front of an audience?

I spend about four months of the year speaking, seven months writing and a month off (covert writing time when all the best ideas flow).

How have you developed your craft?My Life

A good editor is the best writing mentor. I have learnt so much from great editors. That and maintaining a daily freewriting practice alongside my work-in-progress. I’ve read lots of books on writing to understand structure and process. One of my favourites is John Steinbeck’s Journal of a Novel, a series of letters he wrote to his editor while working on The Grapes of Wrath. It’s such a comforting, intimate insight into the daily meanderings, aspirations and doubts that plague the mind of a writer.

As well as that, you’re a director. Could you tell us about something you’ve directed?

I made a bunch of short films in my mid-20s and then some TV. Learning to analyse scripts and find a personal ‘way in’ to a screen story taught me a lot. The most successful film was Soar about sitting next to the most annoying person in the world on a plane. It was screened at some great fests in the US and Europe and on the Sundance Channel.

Now, I make my video trailers for my books and videos for Room to Read, the literacy charity I’m an ambassador for.

Exploding ChickensTell us about your new book My Life and Other Exploding Chickens. (Do you know any exploding chicken jokes? Do you have any great props?)

Exploding Chickens tells some chilling true short stories from my childhood about an evil dentist, a killer clown and a ninja librarian (who wrought revenge on me for having had Fungus the Bogeyman five years overdue from the public library. [It was a very good book.]). The stories star my alter ego, Tom Weekly, and a regular cast of characters, illustrated by the brilliant Gus Gordon (Herman & Rosie).

I don’t have an exploding chicken joke handy but a kid told me a joke in a school visit yesterday and wrote it on the back of a paper aeroplane for me to put in my next book:

‘Have you seen the movie ‘Constipation’?’

‘No. It hasn’t come out yet.’image5[1]

Could you share your latest book trailer with us? (I was smiling all the way through when I watched it and then laughed out loud at the end.)

Yup. Here it is

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnA1nWCpgps

And tell us about the Exploding Chickens competition.

Kids can make their own book video about My Life & Other Exploding Chickens. Top prize for the best video is $500 cash for the filmmaker and $500 worth of books for their school. Click the link in the sidebar at www.tristanbancks.com

What else are you enjoying reading?

ProtectedI recently finished Claire Zorn’s YA novel The Protected which was very good. I’m super-keen to read Robert Hoge’s Ugly and I recently picked up a YA novel called Wolf by Wolf which looks great. I’ve also been re-reading Wonder and listening to David Walliams’ Ratburger as an audio book. 😉 In my writing and reading I drift between serious and funny stuff.

What are some books that are really important to you?

In terms of serious stuff, Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet and Markus Zusak’s Fighting Ruben Wolfe taught me a lot about writing. The Catcher in the Rye and The Road are the two books that have had the greatest emotional impact on me. They knocked me sideways, unable to move after putting the book down. Stephen King’s The Body made a real impression on me as a teenager – a book with a strong spine and high stakes with well-drawn characters and big ideas.

In terms of kid comedy, Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox, Paul Jennings’ Unreal, Rene Goscinny’s Nicholas and Tim Winton’s The Bugalugs Bum Thief.

What do you dream of achieving or doing in the future?

I just want to write great stories. Stories as powerful and humorous as those above. I want each book to be better than the last – each My Life book to be funnier and more true, each book for older kids to be more honest and brave. Someone once said to me when talking about the many facets of a modern author’s life, from writing to touring to social media, ‘The best thing you can do is write a stunning manuscript.’ I place this quote on the title page of every manuscript now. Ultimately, that’s all that matters. Write a better story than the last. That’s my goal.

Tristan with some other popular authors
Tristan with some other popular authors

Where can people find you on social media?

www.twitter.com/tristanbancks

www.instagram.com/tristanbancksbooks

www.youtube.com/tristanbancks

Thanks very much, Tristan. 

Australian YA: Meet Justine Larbalestier, author of My Sister Rosa

Thanks for speaking to Boomerang Books, Justine. 

liar

Your books have been praised by critics, winning and being shortlisted for numerous awards, and are also very popular. Apart from My Sister Rosa (Allen & Unwin), which book is your finest achievement?

That’s not for me to say. Besides which I always think the book I’m working on is my best until it’s published and I’m at work on the next book.

[Joy’s other favourite is the brilliant Liar.]

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

I’m based in Sydney at the moment. Though I also spend a lot of time in New York City. Some years I’m more based there than here. Most of my friends in the US are YA writers. That’s where my publishing career began so for the longest time I was more connected to the industry there than here. But I’ve been working on that and doing what I can to learn more about the YA publishing industry here and reading heaps of Australian YA. Team Human

It never ceases to amaze me how good the quality is given what a small population we have. I’ve been meeting more writers and booksellers and bloggers and other industry people. Right now I feel very involved with the YA literary community. I find it hard to believe I can count folks like Melina Marchetta and Jaclyn Moriarty as friends. They’re both geniuses! And recently I’ve read all of Kirsty Eagar and Leanne Hall’s books. Wow. They’re amazing.

You describe New York particularly well. Do your characters in My Sister Rosa inhabit areas that you personally enjoy or find stimulating? If so, could you give us an example?

my sister rosaThank you! I’ve lived there on and off since 1999. It’s the city I know best in the world other than Sydney. My Sister Rosa takes place in the parts of NYC that I know best. Though the narrator, Che, is seeing it for the first time. I asked friends who’d only lived there a short time to tell me what first struck them about the city and I tried to remember all the things I found strange, lo, those many years ago when I first lived in NYC. Like, the way it turns out that the steam coming out of the streets isn’t a Hollywood invention, but a real thing. I was so surprised the first time I saw that. I thought someone was shooting a movie.

A character suggests that Australians swear more than Americans. Is this true?

It’s a farken fact. (Er, that I have no substantial data support. Just trust me.)

What kind of role do fashion and fame play in My Sister Rosa?

NYC is a very fashion conscious city. I love people watching there because you see such a vast array of clothes. Top hats with roller skates! (I really did see that one time.) There are many fashion designers based there and lots of young designer markets where you can pick up clothes designed by up and coming designers cheaply. They also have some of the best second-hand clothes shops I’ve ever seen. If you love clothes it’s an exciting town to live in. I wanted to reflect some of that in Rosa.

As for fame, that plays a much smaller part in the book. I’m fascinated by fame and do plan to write about it more in a USA setting. After all some claim famous people are the USA’s primary export. When I’m in NYC I often see famous people. Oh, look, there’s Philip Glass at the next table. Is that Bjork? Why, yes, it is. Hello, Yoko Ono, Uma Thurman, Ai Wei Wei. Oh, and there’s Gwyneth Paltrow. Again. I’m not kidding. I see her everywhere. She needs to stop going to my favourite restaurants already. Why can’t I see Janelle Monae everywhere instead? Life is cruel.

The only famous person in Rosa is Leilani and she’s only microfamous. I loved writing her. I’ve met several high profile bloggers who’ve parlayed that into various different high profile gigs and they all talk very interestingly about their small amount of fame. So Leilani is based on them, but also on Tavi Gevinson, who started her fashion blog at twelve and whose online magazine Rookie is wonderful. She turns 20 in April. I like to think she and Leilani would be besties. Zombies

My Sister Rosa is described as a psychological thriller, a genre very difficult to pull off, but you have done it! I couldn’t read it at night because the suspense and anticipation kept me awake.  How do you create this unnerving atmosphere?

Thank you. I’m so glad it worked for you. The first few drafts of Rosa were massively bloated so I had to cut and cut and cut and keep on cutting. It’s tricky to balance letting readers get to know the characters with building tension and having enough scary incidents. It involves lots of cutting and rewriting and sending out to readers to see if I’m getting it right.

Narrator Che’s voice contributes significantly to the verisimilitude of the story. How did you create his voice and character?

It was a struggle. Rosa is the first novel I’ve written where I didn’t start with the voice. I’m a writer who doesn’t plan. Usually I don’t even know what the plot is when I start writing. But Rosa was my YA version of William March’s The Bad Seed (1954). So I knew the plot: instead of the mother of a psychopath, I would tell the story from the point of view of the older sibling. So instead of my usual practice of starting with the pov character and figuring out the story; I already had the story and had to figure out the pov character.

In the original draft Che was a girl but it didn’t work. I started over. But it still didn’t work. It took about four drafts before I figured out who Che was and what made him tick and made him believable and not cloying. He was really hard to write. Not because he was a boy, but because he’s such a fundamentally nice person, assuming the best of everyone, worrying about other people. We readers are trained to not much like good people. Mostly our favourites are the morally ambiguous characters, not the goody two shoes. Razorhurst

What makes his cute, ten-year-old sister, Rosa, so terrifying?

My guess is that she’s terrifying because she’s a psychopath. And she’s a real psychopath not the serial killer stereotype of the likes of Hannibal Lector. When I was writing the first draft I did a lot of reading on psychopathy. I wanted to see how much what we knew had changed since William March did his research back in the early 1950s. A lot it turned out.

I learned that psychopath, sociopath and antisocial personality disorder are synonyms. I read many case studies of real-life psychopaths who aren’t serial killers.

I also learned a lot from friends, who, on hearing of my research, told me about their own encounters with psychopaths. One dear friend went out with one for years and another close friend’s mother was a psychopath. I also heard stories of people whose children had been diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder. The stories they told me of the manipulation and lies and absence of empathy went a long way towards shaping the character of Rosa.

How well matched are Che and Sojourner or is she out of his league?

I’m not convinced there are leagues. Che and Sojourner have a lot in common. I think they’re well matched. Che underrates himself.  He has a gift for making and keeping friends. He’s loyal and caring and smart. I like that Sojourner was able to see the depths in him. Though, yes, she is amazing.

How carefully did you balance love and empathy with evil?

Several drafts in it was clear that Che was pretty much the opposite of his psychopathic sister. She feels no empathy; he feels too much. That central fact, I think, keeps the book balanced.

What are you enjoying reading? This is Shyness

I’m on a great reading roll at the moment. I loved Kirsty Eagar’s Summer Skin, which is sexy and smart and unputdownable. I’ve read all her books now and loved all of them. As I mentioned above I also recently discovered Leanne Hall’s work. Wow. This is Shyness is unlike anything else I’ve ever read. And her new book Iris and the Tiger is utterly delightful.

Thanks very much, Justine. 

It was a pleasure.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian