Agent Nomad and Skye Melki-Wegner

Skye Melki-Wegner‘s new series is ‘Agent Nomad’  (Penguin Random House Australia).    

Thanks for speaking to Boomerang Blog, Skye.

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

I’m based in Melbourne. I write fantasy/ adventure novels for young readers (and the young at heart). I also regularly visit schools and teach writing workshops. It’s such a joy to work with students and to encourage their creativity.

Your writing has a singular, imaginative style. It’s also thrilling and unexpected.

I really loved your stand-alone novel, The Hush, and reviewed it for the Weekend Australian here.

How do you think your creative brain works differently from the brains of other people?

Thanks Joy, that means a lot to me.

I’ve always had an urge to tell stories and to ‘make believe’. My parents have countless videos from my early childhood, full of me babbling about fairies or dragons or making up alternative endings to fairy tales.

Having said that, I believe everyone has the potential to be creative. When we are children, all it takes is a plastic toy or a pile of sand to craft a wildly imaginative universe from scratch.

Many people lose touch with their childhood creativity as they grow older. However, I think the potential for wild imagination still lurks within all of us, whether we are authors or accountants! All we need is a chance to express it.

Have you had any particularly memorable feedback about The Hush?

I recently received an email from a young reader who used The Hush as inspiration when playing her various musical instruments. She said that she liked to pretend she was conjuring sorcery through her music, just like the characters in The Hush.

I loved this idea, since it reminded me of my own childhood. When I was a kid, I used to pretend to be various literary characters to inspire myself during daily tasks. (When we did fitness tests in PE, I secretly pretended I was training for a quidditch match!)

It was incredibly touching to hear that my own book could have a similar effect for a reader.

After such a powerful novel, why are you now writing a series?

In a fantasy novel, it often takes a while to establish how the magic and society function. This can sometimes take up a significant chunk of the book. By writing a series, I can cover most of this ‘world building’ in the first book. Then, in later installments, I get to have fun exploring the characters and world more deeply.

I also love the fun of plotting out a series in advance and hiding secret clues about future titles. In the Agent Nomad series, there are moments in Book One and Two with hidden significance that won’t be revealed until later… but of course, my lips are sealed!

Could you tell us about The Eleventh Hour, the first in the Agent Nomad series?

It’s about spies and sorcery — and unlike my previous books, it’s set in the modern world.

The protagonist is a 15-year-old called Natalie. When the book begins, she’s an ordinary Aussie teenager, worried about homework and Maths tests.

One night, however, it all changes. A pair of deadly strangers invade Natalie’s home and she barely escapes with her life. In the aftermath, she is recruited by a sorcerous spy agency called HELIX.

As a HELIX cadet, Natalie must train to use her own magical abilities. She adopts the codename ‘Nomad’ and prepares to fight against a cabal of ruthless sorcerers called the Inductors.

Before her training is complete, however, Nomad and her fellow cadets are sent to London, risking their lives to thwart a ruthless Inductor plot before time runs out.

Could you describe each of the three main protagonists, Nomad, Riff and Phoenix, in a phrase or sentence?

 Nomad is an artist and a born traveller, who yearns for adventure and to explore the world.

Riff is a jokester with a love of fun, food and rock music – but he also has real talent and a deep love for his friends and family.

Phoenix is a talented fighter, who hides the trauma of her past behind the façade of an emotionless warrior.

I liked both the Australian and London settings. How do you create a sense of place without excessive description?

I think a few carefully chosen sensory details can be more effective than overloaded paragraphs of description.

In the school assembly scene, for example, I needed to describe an Aussie high school gym on a scorching February day. I snuck in snippets of sensory detail: the stink of sweat and cheap perfume sprays, the buzz of a blowfly, the whispering students and glaring teachers etc.

A few of these little details should be enough. If they’re strategically placed throughout a scene, they should prompt the reader to subconsciously fill in the rest of the setting with their own experience and memories.

The pace moves quickly. What’s a favourite scene or ‘inventiveness’ you’ve created?

For personal reasons, I’m quite fond of the chase scene on the train into Melbourne. I’ve spent countless hours sitting on Melbourne’s public transport, daydreaming about magic and excitement. It was fun to incorporate a mundane location like Caulfield Station into a fantasy book. I felt a bit cheeky doing it, actually!

(In reality, I associate Caulfield Station with travelling to university exams. Not quite as thrilling as a magical chase scene!)

Your writing style is a highlight. How would you describe it?

It varies a bit from book to book. In Agent Nomad, I’m speaking through Natalie (a teenage first person narrator). It’s an interesting balancing act to weave in descriptive detail without losing the flavour of her narrative voice.

Danika, my narrator in Chasing the Valley, has a slightly different voice. She’s more cynical and hardened at the start of the series, so her style of self-expression is different. Also, since she’s from a fictional dystopian world, she narrates with different vocabulary and colloquialisms.

By contrast, The Hush is written in third person. I had fun incorporating fancier descriptions (and more complex figurative language) into this book, since I didn’t have to worry about a first person narrator’s style or vocabulary!

Science or magic? Magic or science?

Science in the real world, magic in fiction.

What have you enjoyed reading recently?

In SFF, I’ve really enjoyed Illuminae and Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff – it’s such a brilliant idea to write SciFi in an epistolary format.

In contemporary YA, I’ve recently loved A Shadow’s Breath by Nicole Hayes and Black by Fleur Ferris.

Are you writing something else at the moment? If so, could you tell us about it?

I must confess I’m writing too many things! Needless to say, they’re all fantasy projects. Every time I finish a manuscript, a new idea starts itching at me… and before I know it, I’m halfway through another one! Oops.

All the best with ‘Agent Nomad’, Skye. It should create a unique niche in the market.

Thanks so much, Joy!

Julie Hunt, the imagination behind KidGlovz

When reading a book by Julie Hunt I feel like I’m entering into an uncanny world, where imagination seeps into the interstices of reality. Julie is the author of The Coat (illustrated by Ron Brooks), which won CBCA picture book of the year in 2013.

Her other major books are Precious Little (illustrated by Gaye Chapman), the Little Else series (illustrated by Beth Norling) and KidGlovz, which features in this interview. These books are published by Allen & Unwin.

Quality graphic novels for children are extremely rare and should be cherished. KidGlovz, written by Julie Hunt and illustrated by Dale Newman over four years, is an outstanding example of the form. It won the 2016 Queensland Literary Award and Dale was shortlisted for the 2016 Crichton Award as a debut book illustrator. Although sophisticated, reluctant readers also enjoy it.

The title of KidGlovz derives from the saying, ‘handle with kid gloves’. The protagonist, KidGlovz is a talented, fragile boy who is being raised for profit rather than nurtured. With insufficient food and while virtually a prisoner in his room, he is visited by tightrope walker, Shoestring, who frees him from avaricious guardian Dr Spin, exposing him instead to an external world of danger and adventure.

I met Julie at the State Theatre Café in Hobart last week. It seemed like a fitting, although subconscious, choice by Julie because KidGlovz begins as a theatre performance by the young precocious pianist. Fittingly, the Hobart theatre and café also adjoins a bookshop.

This was the perfect time for an interview because Julie has just had the go-ahead from her publisher Allen & Unwin (great supporters of the graphic novel) for Shoestring, the companion book to KidGlovz. Julie actually wrote it as a sequel soon after completing KidGlovz. It’s now less a sequel than a discrete work even though the characters of KidGlovz and, of course, Shoestring reappear and Julie is rewriting it so that it will become an illustrated, rather than ‘graphic’ novel. She is translating potential visual images and jokes into words but there will still be 100 pictures.

Shoestring will be published in 2018 and a third book will then be in the pipeline, featuring Sylvie Quickfingers, a stolen child prodigy who has a cameo at the end of KidGlovz.

Even though writing is ‘arduous and difficult’, Julie is ‘only interested if the work excites me’. When I asked Julie if her editor and publisher need to restrain her creative brain with its original perspective and perhaps prevent her from straying too far into a wondrous strangeness, she replied that they are formative, ‘They encourage me to go further’.

Julie’s picture book The Coat has been greatly acclaimed. Its illustrator, Ron Brooks, happens to live across the river from Julie, but The Coat was not a collaborative work – Ron illustrated Julie’s story after she wrote it.

Julie’s subconscious seems to be continuously at work, with the gloves being a recurring motif in both The Coat and KidGlovz. She’s often ‘not aware of this stuff till a bit later.’

Music is another motif rising throughout Julie’s books such as Song For a Scarlet Runner, winner of the inaugural Readings Children’s Book Prize and shortlisted for multiple prestigious awards. Julie studied the trumpet and sang Bulgarian folk music, which took her to ‘another realm’ and showcased her ‘larger than life self’ when she was on stage.

Secondary characters such as Splitworld Sam from KidGlovz and Siltman from Song For a Scarlet Runner are both otherworldly figures. Names, such as in Julie’s junior series Little Else, illustrated by Beth Norling, are important to Julie. She knows she’s not on the right track if she doesn’t have the right names for her characters.

It was a pleasure to meet this extremely talented author. Julie is a delightful person, with a generous  smile and laugh. As a writer, Julie feels like the tightrope walker in the famous postcard by Quint Buccholz. She steps out and ‘hopes for the best’.

The Fix-It Man by Dimity Powell and Nicky Johnston

From our very own Boomerang Books blogger / word smith extraordinaire, Dimity Powell, together with the divinely talented illustrator, Nicky Johnston, we have a very special feature here today! I have had the utmost pleasure in reviewing their gorgeous new book, The Fix-It Man, and in finding out more about their collaboration. Enjoy!

Review:

Poignant, perfectly pitched and picture perfect. The Fix-It Man is a story that so effectively and sensitively captures the heartache and love between a little girl and her father when dealing with loss. Dimity Powell’s words are paced at a gentle rhythm that allow its readers space to breathe and take in the deeper meaning at the heart of the tale. The illustrations by Nicky Johnston encapsulate adversity and strength with their unmistakable emotive intensity.

A little girl has complete faith in her dad to fix anything. “It’s what dads do.” Whether it’s super gluing kites, mending the dog’s kennel or piecing shattered teapots back together, Dad is at the heart of turning bad days into good. But even her dependable, handy father can’t fix Mama. And there is nothing more shattering than that moment. That wordless moment of grief in the slimmest of moonlight that father and daughter lay wrapped up in Mama’s quilt, sure to be the first of many sleepless nights. Hearts break and cracks widen, but with a little bit of optimism and a whole lot of love, they know they can fix things together.

Superbly narrated and delicately illustrated, The Fix-It Man is a reassuring story that gently addresses the themes of love, life and loss in a thoughtful way. Being able to embrace life and cope with death at the same time shows great resilience. And for readers from age four in similar circumstances, this book offers an invaluable sense of hope and comfort.

EK Books, March 2017.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Join us now for the interview:

Congratulations on the release of your newest picture book, The Fix-It Man!

DP: Thanks, Romi. Dancing on clouds happy about it.

Dimity, this is your debut in the picture book arena! Where did the foundation for this story come from?

DP: Like many story ideas of mine, it evolved from a real life incident, which developed into a thought, which led to a question, which resulted in a small movie inside my head. The hard part was extracting the best bits and shaping them into a picture book text. I love the belief small children have in their parents, that they can fix anything and everything. I wanted to explore the reaction of a child when this belief is challenged, when their fixer suddenly needs fixing, too.

How did you find the whole publishing process with EK Books? How much input did you have with Nicky’s illustrations?

DP: A veritable dream. Likewise, Nicky is a dream to work with. She is dedicated and meticulous and included me in just about every step of the process from rough drafts to finals. This was something I had not expected so it was a joy to correspond with her and give feedback on the images as they developed. There was never any real need to clarify the relationship between her images and my text; Nicky just seemed to know what was going on in my head. There was however, a lot of discussion between us and our publisher about the various nuances and symbols; all the tiny details used throughout the visual narrative. It was a real team effort.

What do you like about Nicky’s style? How do you feel her illustrations have complemented your text?

DP: Everything! Nicky’s current style is perfectly suited to this story and exactly the way I envisaged this family to be. The emotion projected in Nicky’s images is poignantly powerful.

Nicky’s illustrations more than just complement the story. They add a level of subtly and sensitivity without ever being maudlin. Her soft colour palette and homogeneous characters invite readers into the very heart and soul of the story: we could be that family.

Nicky, what drew you to Dimity’s story when you first read it? Did you feel a connection with the text? Did the images naturally appear in your mind or was it a process that developed over time?

NJ: As soon as I read Dim’s manuscript, I connected to it immediately. Visuals started filling my head, I sketched them all into my sketchbook (pages of them!) it was quite overwhelming actually.

The story is beautifully written, every word, every pause and every page break is a deliberate choice to ensure the flow of the story is not only read, but felt.

The illustrated scenes, the characters, the subtle visual sub stories came to me with immense ease. I worked on the first concept roughs almost obsessively. The entire developmental process from roughs to producing the final artworks filled me with pure joy.

Dimity and Nicky, you seem like a terrific team with an organic relationship, which certainly resonates through the book. How did you feel about the collaboration with one another along the journey? Were there any hiccups or surprises you can share with us?

DP: Extremely grateful and satisfied in the most fulfilling way. From the very first sample spread I saw, I knew my words were in good hands. Nicky’s ability to ‘get’ my intentions is uncanny. I think the way she is able to extract exactly how I picture the characters and scenes out of my head and capture them in watercolour (without any consultation) is true genius and just a little bit spooky. The biggest surprise for me was that everything progressed so fluidly and enjoyably.

NJ: I am amazed with the personal connection Dim and I have, given we have only ever met in person twice! I think our minds, visions and emotions are aligned in quite an authentic way. I am pleased the illustrations and the text combination demonstrates this unitedness too.

This was my first time working with EK Books and I really loved the team approach that was given to the entire project. It was fabulous to be able to bounce around my ideas and rough sketches with everyone to be sure we would create the book to the highest standard.

What has been the most rewarding part of creating this book so far?

DP: When I got the call from my publisher with the green light good news. It had been a long hard slog to get to that point so that call was a massive relief. I may have shed a few tears. Holding it (The Fix-It Man) in my hands for the first time was also a bit momentous. Oh and watching the visual landscape of my story come to life with each of Nicky’s illustrations. I still find that part of storytelling inexplicably rewarding; watching your words come alive is pure magic. Sorry to carry on but I feel very rewarded!

NJ: Seeing the illustrations and the text together for the first time was pretty special. And to be called a ‘Dream Team’ topped it off for me!

It was quite a lengthy process from beginning to end, and like all things that take time, the wait has been worth it.

DP: The dream team…still sets me aglow.

Thank you both so much for participating in this mini interview!! 🙂 xx

NJ: What great questions, thank you for having us share our collection journey of creating The Fix It Man!

DP: It’s been a pleasure, Romi. Thanks J

Purchase The Fix-It Man.

The Fix-It Man will be launched in both Brisbane and Melbourne! Check the flyers for details.

 

The Blog Burst party continues at the following websites. Check them out!

Kids’ Book Review

Creative Kids’ Tales

Dee White

GumbootsPearlz

Visit Dimity Powell at her website, and Nicky Johnston at her website.

Please enjoy one last special show, courtesy of Nicky Johnston!

Nicole Hayes and ‘ A Shadow’s Breath’

A Shadow’s Breath by Nicole Hayes (Penguin Random House Australia) has just been published. Nicole spoke to Boomerang Books.

Where are you based and how are you involved in Australia’s YA lit community?

I am a Melbourne-based YA author and reader. The YA lit community in Melbourne is very open and embracing, and as an Ambassador to the Stella Schools Prize Program and a writing teacher, I get to meet lots of readers and writers at schools and festivals. When I’m not writing or teaching writing, I often work with other authors on their manuscripts.

What sports are you interested in?

A lot of sports, but I love AFL most of all. I used to play footy when I was a kid and became a rabid Hawthorn fan in my teens. My first novel, The Whole of My World, featured a teenage girl obsessed with footy, very loosely based on my experiences, and eventually led to my writing two more books about footy, and introduced me to the rest of the Outer Sanctum team – the all-female AFL podcast I’m involved in. I also watch a lot of soccer and Futsal because both my daughters are keen players.

Can you tell us about your other books?

The Whole of My World is about teenager Shelley Brown who is desperate to escape her grieving father and her own terrible secret. When she changes schools and a new friend introduces her to her footy heroes, Shelley’s passion for the game tips over into obsession, and she loses track of herself and all the things that matter in the process. 

One True Thing is about 16 year old Frankie Mulvaney-Webb whose mum is the Premier of Victoria. But Frankie hates the spotlight. All she wants to do is lay low and focus on her rock band, but her life is turned upside down when photos of her mum in a secret rendezvous with a much younger man go viral.

I’ve also written two other books about footy – one for adults called, From the Outer: Footy Like You’ve Never Heard It, and most recently, A Footy Girl’s Guide to the Stars of 2017, aimed at kids and featuring players from the new women’s Aussie Rules competition.

Could you explain the structure you’ve used in your new novel A Shadow’s Breath?

The novel has two alternating narratives, depicting two different timeframes interwoven throughout until they merge into one near the end. The Now chapters tell of Tessa Gilham’s survival story following a car accident that has left her and her boyfriend Nick stranded in the middle of the Australian bush. The second narrative, the Then chapters, go back over the last days before the accident, uncovering what drove Tessa and Nick into the bush in the first place, revealing why Tessa is afraid to go home.

It’s a fascinating title. Could you give us an insight into it?

Once I decided that Tessa would be a painter, I became particularly interested in finding a title that reflected the many issues around light and colour. My research uncovered a lot about the relativity of colour, which emerged as a powerful theme throughout the novel. I became fascinated by colour and how we see it differently, how it’s a cultural construct as well as an individual one, but also the logistics of how it works – that it’s also about how light is reflected and how our brain processes this information. In the middle of this reading I remembered an Emily Dickinson poem, “A Certain Slant of Light”, and this stanza caught me:

When it comes, the Landscape listens –

Shadows – hold their breath –

When it goes, ’tis like the Distance

On the look of Death –

That’s when the shadow made its way into the title. I played around with different phrasings, then stumbled on “a shadow’s breath”, which is also an expression that means the smallest thing, or the tiniest margin. I really liked the idea of that – because these tiny things, even as slight as a shadow’s breath – can change how we see things completely. And so often the difference between life and death is as small as a shadow’s breath – one step the wrong way, or seconds earlier or later… Whole lives can change at a whim. There’s so much power in that almost non-existent thing. I also love that it hints at something vaguely mystical and impossible to hold.

Tell us about the characters Tessa, Yuki and Nick.

Tessa Gilham is mostly a loner and feels like she doesn’t belong. She’s convinced that the town hates her and her mum, and she’s probably right to a point. But Tessa’s life is improving — her mum has kicked out her abusive ex-partner, and is sober again. Tessa wants to believe that life will be different, but she’s so fragile and damaged that she struggles to trust it to last. In the process of trying to heal, she rediscovers her love of painting and, between this therapeutic outlet and the blossoming friendships around her, her new boyfriend, Nick and the ever faithful Yuki, Tessa is beginning to find her feet.

Yuki Fraser is Tessa’s best friend and her one reliable companion. It was often the Fraser home where Tessa sought escape from her abusive home life. Yuki’s dad is the local cop, and an old friend of the Gilhams – he’s determined to protect Tessa and has worked hard to keep Ellen Gilham out of jail. Yuki’s mum and little sister treat Tessa like family. Always have. But Yuki is trying to find her own way too, and tension between the girls increases as Tessa leans more heavily on her boyfriend Nick, neglecting to be there for Yuki in the way Yuki has always been there for Tessa.

Nick Kostas is one of the “new kids” from St Catherine’s which has recently merged with Carrima High. He and Tessa have just started dating but because he’s so popular and successful, and a year ahead at school, Tessa isn’t entirely secure in their relationship, and struggles to understand why he would choose her over more likely girls. The fact that he’s about to move to the city to go to university doesn’t help the situation, despite Nick’s obvious devotion to her.

What is the importance of Tessa’s home life to the story?

Tessa and her mum are trying on this new life, and still finding their way back to each other. Ellen Gilham has only recently sent “the arsehole” packing, and is newly sober, but as it’s been so long since it was just the two of them together, Tessa and Ellen are still working out how to be a family.

Tessa has been responsible for herself for so long that she isn’t sure how to let Ellen mother her, and Ellen is weighed down with guilt and regret that she let things continue for as long as she did. A guilt that Tessa feels is, mostly, deserved. Damaged and hurt, Tessa is struggling to forgive her mother, while the fragile Ellen wants only to earn back her daughter’s trust.

How important is the concept of ‘shouganai’ (surrender) in the narrative?

It was one of the first meaningful phrases I learnt in Japanese when I was living there many years ago, and it always stayed with me. It has different interpretations – positive and negative – but when Yuki’s mum says it, there’s a certain dignity and grace attached to accepting what – or who — can’t be changed. Specifically, accepting those you love for who they are – warts and all. In A Shadow’s Breath, I twisted its use to apply to people and their situation, but I love the bravery inherent in that. The idea of stepping back and letting things play out as they’re intended.

What role does art play?

For Tessa, art is her saving grace. Through her art she is able to find her way back to her childhood and begin to process and understand what happened to her. Her painting offers an outlet but also a means through which she can develop self-belief and start to accept her own worth. It also provides a connection with her new friends, and an opportunity to express herself, to earn these new friendships, particularly with Nick, who admires her work and envies her talent. Through their appreciation and admiration, she begins to look to the future for the first time.

Have any responses from your readers particularly resonated with you?

The story idea emerged at least partly from my encounters with young people whose own homes are not the haven they’re meant to be, and I really wanted their stories to be heard too. Since the novel came out, I’ve had several readers message to congratulate me on how I have depicted the reality of an abusive family and the challenges for those left behind. It’s genuinely humbling to be told that Tessa’s experience feels authentic to those who have had a similar life.

What other books have left a deep impression on you? 

So many! The book that continues to shake me, no matter how many times I read it, is The Road by Cormac McCarthy. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, McCarthy manages to depict a harrowing and bleak world of post-apocalyptic America in such sparse and beautiful language that I have found myself rereading passages too many times to count. But beyond the writing itself, the story depicts possibly the purist kind of parental love – it is a story about a dying man and his young son attempting to travel south to avoid an almost certainly lethal winter – and yet it never once uses the word love. There’s barely an expression of emotion in the whole novel. And yet it makes me cry like a baby every time I read it. I shiver even now just thinking about it.

Thanks for your generous and insightful responses, Nicole, and all the best with A Shadow’s Breath.

‘Before You Forget’ and Julia Lawrinson

 

Meet Julia Lawrinson, author of Before You Forget, Penguin Australia

Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Julia.

Where are you based and what’s your background in books?

I am based in Western Australia, and I’ve published thirteen novels for children and young adults (lucky thirteen, I hope!)

I really enjoyed your 2006 YA novel, Bye Beautiful . Could you tell us about this and some of your other writing? bye-beautiful

Most of my books are realistic, contemporary novels. Bye, Beautiful is set in the wheatbelt in 1966, and so is a departure from that. It is about a policeman’s family, and what happens when two sisters fall in love with the same boy, who happens to be Aboriginal. Although it is fiction, it is based on my mother’s story: my grandfather was a policeman who became officer in charge of the North West before he retired, and his strong personality and morality has had a lasting effect on his family. I feel I work best as a writer when I have a strong emotional connection to what I’m writing about.

My earliest work was very ‘gritty’: dealing with bogan high schools and adolescent psychiatric hospitals. Those stories resonated a lot with readers, and were stories that needed to be told.

Your new novel Before You Forget has a devastating personal connection for you. Could you tell us about the genesis of this novel?

before-you-forgetThe novel was written in response to seeing the suffering that my daughter went through when her father developed early onset Alzheimer’s disease, which began as she was starting high school. It wasn’t just the loss of memory that was an issue: his whole personality changed, and he went through periods of being anxious and angry by turns, which was difficult for both me and my daughter. He would give money away, invite perfect strangers home, almost cause accidents when he was driving without the slightest awareness of it. He refused to see doctors, and when he finally did, they suspected he had depression, alcoholism and various other things until he saw a specialist. Being there with him when he was diagnosed remains the most awful day of my life.

It was incredibly painful for my daughter to see the father she knew disappear in this way, and nobody really seemed to understand. The only person who truly got it was her friend Gemma, whose mother had the same disease, and who tragically died the week the book was released. I want people to understand the impact of diseases like Alzheimer’s on the kids in the family, to have empathy for the extended grief such conditions create.

What is the most terrifying thing about Alzheimer’s?

That it strips away what defines you as yourself. Annie’s dad’s defining feature was his intelligence. It was so awful to see that disappear. Although he’s retained his sense of humour to the end.

How has the book helped your family?

It’s been cathartic, being able to describe some of the things that happened, and to reclaim some of what we lost through the story. The situations in the novel are common to most families where a parent develops Alzheimer’s or similar neurological diseases, so hopefully it will provide a sort of sense of community.

How can others help families in this situation?

By asking what they need. People often want to come in and take control, or offer what they think is best, but it’s really important to listen to what would make the family’s life easier. It will be different for everyone. Also, to be respectful of people’s emotions: taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s is an emotional rollercoaster. I remember someone saying to me early on that Alzheimer’s was a beautiful thing, which felt like being slapped in the face. Teenagers with parents with Alzheimer’s can become very impatient and frustrated, but this doesn’t mean they don’t love their parent. It means they are dealing with the grief of dealing with a parent who is no longer who they used to be.

flyawayWho are your favourite artists?

Visual artists? Monet, Van Gogh, Rene Magritte, Brett Whitely, Frida Kahlo, Jeffrey Smart, Margaret Olley.

The protagonist, Amelia, loves art. How have you used art to reflect Amelia’s experiences?

I tried to have Amelia’s struggle to express herself as an artist parallel her difficulties in expressing her feelings about what is happened to her and her dad. Amelia is quite self-contained, but her art shows what is important to her.

How have you incorporated 9/11 into the story?

Amelia obsessively watches 9/11 footage, reads about it, tries to imagine what it would have been like to be there. To her, it is her personal disaster writ large. Instead of having something slow and invisible up-end your life, there is something fast, immediate and visual. But she also learns that it is not just one story: there are lots of stories out of 9/11, including stories of hope and bravery and fellow-feeling.

Amelia’s best friend Gemma has a problem. Could you tell us about this?

Gemma develops an eating disorder almost by accident: she begins dieting and then finds herself on a path she can’t get off. I’ve seen this happen with a lot of young people, and it happened to me as a teenager. You can’t mess with restricting food: once you start, the problems you may have been using food to deal with get magnified. Amelia can’t understand it, because to her Gemma has everything, and she is also upset that Gemma can’t appreciate Amelia’s serious problems. They can’t help each other, in a sense, because of what’s going on in their own lives, but they do try to find a way back to each other.

I should note that I used my daughter’s best friend’s name with permission in the novel, but the real Gemma bears no resemblance to the fictional one!

1b28f-chessnutscoverAmelia’s neighbour, Will, plays chess and one of your earlier books is called Chess Nuts. Why have you used chess in your YA novel, rather than another pastime or point of contact?

Again, this was part of the autobiographical aspect of the novel: my daughter played chess, and her dad was a chess coach (which is how Chess Nuts came about). It was also one of the first things that alerted me to his mental decline: a man who remembered every move of his year seven chess final to suddenly forget how to move a knight. It was a clear sign something was wrong.

What other books have left a deep impression on you?

I read a lot of books featuring bodily or mental illness when I was a teenager. Lois Lowry’s A Summer to Die had a big impact on me, as did The Bell Jar, A Patch of Blue by Elizabeth Kata, and Second Star to the Right by Deborah Hautzig.

Thanks very much, Julia, and all the best with your new book and your family. Your story will no doubt help many others.

Doodles and Drafts – Nick Earls reveals his Top Secrets

word-hunters-and-nick-earlsA few years ago, I had the supreme pleasure of joining a world of word nuts who allowed me to accompany them on hair-raising adventures through time and reason; I discovered the Word Hunters – a trilogy of etymological enigmas by author Nick Earls and illustrator, Terry Whidborne. I carry on a bit about the awesomeness of their series, here. Although Word Hunters is more than satisfying and a dozen other superlatives to boot, I was left wanting more as many exhilarating experiences are wont to make you feel. And so, the trilogy has expanded with the launch of the Top Secret Files.

Top Secret Files is a sort of compendium of loosely connected thoughts and verbal exploration. It’s a journal of notes and taste bud temptations. It’s an explanation of even more philology through brief crisp narrative and pages of eye-catching sketches, drawings, and diagrams. It’s the journal of the great word hunter, Caractacus entrusted to the ancient librarian, Mursili who perhaps a little misguidedly assigns it back to our dauntless duo, Earls and Whidborne.

Today we have the auspicious pleasure of welcoming Nick Earls to the draft table to learn a little more about the custodian of the Word Hunters and how he is dealing with his Top Secret Files.

nick-earls-2017Welcome Nick!

Who is Nick Earls? Describe your writerly self.

Twenty-six books into the job, he’s an unkempt work in progress, growing into the thought lines etched deep into his forehead and still trying to get better each time he writes.

In a former life, your quest was to serve and protect or at least, make people feel better. How does your current occupational goal as a writer compare?

I now wear my underpants on the inside and don’t have a cape. Each job hinges on a connection with people. In medicine, it’s getting to understand them on their terms, so that the story they tell makes as much sense as possible. In writing the kind of fiction I mostly do, it’s about tapping into characters who, when read, feel as though they can’t have been made up. With Word Hunters there are other objectives too – there’s an adventure to be had and a world of mind-blowing words facts to play around with. My goal as the writer of this series is to entertain, but also be part of opening minds to the possibilities of history and the fascinating workings of the language. It’s too easy to fall into the habit of saying that English is a crazy language that makes no sense, but the more you grasp its 1500-year history (plus some back-story) the more sense it ends up making. And the more powerfully you can use it. ‘Night’ and ‘light’, for instance, aren’t spelled that way by chance, or because someone threw darts at a board – there’s a reason for it, and a really interesting one (featuring a now-lost letter), so we wrote about that in the new book.

wisdom-tree-novellasName three titles you have created that you are particularly proud of and why.

It’s not a thing I feel about anything I write. Which doesn’t mean I think it’s all awful – it’s just that ‘pride’ isn’t really the feeling. I love the process of exploring the story and its characters, and how they’ll all work, and then the job of working hard to get the details right and delivering them in a compelling way. If someone gets it, I feel good. It feels as if all that work was worth sharing. Okay, one example: Gotham, the first novella in the Wisdom Tree series. I had two story ideas that I wanted to give to one character, and I thought I could make them work together in an interesting way. So, the first two acts are essentially one of those story ideas, with seeds being sewn for the third, then act three really takes you somewhere, delivers something (I hope) you’re not expecting, and also casts new light on the earlier part of the story. It’s worked just as I hoped it would for quite a lot of people now, and I have to admit that’s gratifying, since I love it when fiction works that way in my head.

top-secret-files-word-huntersIt’s been nearly three and a half years since the Word Hunter series hit our bookshelves. Was a follow up compendium like Top Secret Files always on the cards? If not, what evoked the idea and need for it?

It was Terry’s idea, and he put it to me when we were driving between two schools, doing our live Word Hunters show when the third book came out in 2013. He wanted to do something more visual and less dependent on a big new narrative, and he wanted to explore some of the gadgets we’d included. In that conversation, I realised I’d found some excellent word stuff that I hadn’t been able to include in the other three books, and we came up with the idea of a kind of manual, or ‘a compendium of devices and methods’ as Caractacus rather self-importantly puts it. Living in the Dark Ages and seeing the consequence of knowledge loss, Caractacus puts a premium on knowledge and, unlike the rest of us, has a pipeline to the future. So, this is him trying to keep track of the info future word hunters bring back to him, some of which he adapts for use in his own time. Some of that presented a fascinating challenge. In book three, he’s created lightweight 21st-century ceramic armour for the hunters to fight in, and for Top Secret Files I had to work out how it was made, then work out how to adapt that to processes someone could use on a Dark Ages pig farm. I have to say, that stretched me. Then we paired that with the fun activity of making your own medieval armour from cardboard, using the fascinating terms for each piece.

What can Word Hunter fans expect from Top Secret Files?

Expect the unexpected. You’ll come out of this dressed in armour from the 15th century, making bread from 3000 years ago and able to navigate using the Ancient Phoenician alphabet (or, more correctly, abjad). And who doesn’t want that set of awesome skills? You’ll also understand why we score tennis the way we do, where cricket fielding positions got their names, and how our alphabet found twelve new letters and lost nine of them!

Top Secret Files reads as a combination of loose jaunty exchanges and solid historical fact. At times if feels even more revealing and fantastical than the Word Hunters storylines. (Are all those words that couldn’t be saved as part of the English language real? Sorry had to ask; I’m too lazy to research every groke, fudgel, and curglaff) Why did you choose this style of delivery over straightforward narrative?

Some of the most improbable things in the book are true including, yes, those words that couldn’t be saved (even the one that involves doing a distinctly weird thing to a part of a horse that’s best left alone …). When I was tunnelling around for material, I wanted the facts to be weirder than the fiction, so that the fiction seems all the more plausible.

We had this kind of style in mind from the start, for two reasons. First, not having to build a massive narrative to slip in one brilliant word fact gave us licence to include lots more stuff and focus on it. It would have taken several more of the original books and a lot of complicated storytelling to have created opportunities to use everything we got to use here. Also, Terry was very mindful of creating a different way into the word hunters’ world. This was deliberately compact, really visual and in short sections (with an overarching concept but not an overarching narrative) to provide a way into the world for kids not immediately drawn to 40-60,000 words of narrative.

We wanted to make the original three books accessible by telling the most engrossing time-travel adventure story we could, but this book is designed to increase the accessibility even more. We wanted to create something for, say, 9-10-year-old boys not yet hooked by reading big stories (while at the same time offering fascinating content for people who are). If they get into this, maybe they’ll pick up book one, and then book two and book three. And by the end of that, maybe they’ll have felt that buzz in their head that only books can put there, and they’ll want more. I got into reading as a kid, but Terry didn’t, and this is Terry coming up with the kind of book he thinks might have made a difference to him at that age.

word-hunter-sketchesIllustrator, Terry Whidborne receives equal airplay alongside you, Lexi and Al throughout this journal. What was the dynamic like working with him? How did it influence and or benefit this production?

Terry’s great. We met working on an advertising campaign in 2002. We’re friends and I’m also in awe of his skills as an artist – another reason to do this book: I want publishers and others to see just how talented Terry is.

We each bring very different things to a book like this, and I think that helps make us a great team. We also had a very clear shared vision of what we wanted the end result to be. And it was always clear that we would have the freedom to suggest possible topics to each other, and throw in ideas to get the other one thinking. Terry would say things like, ‘I reckon there would be some kind of portal-sniffing device,’ and I’d have to rummage around for the science to sort-of back it up.

And I’d often say, about something I was working on, ‘I don’t know what this looks like – could you show me?’ and he would. Or I’d say, ‘here’s some great content I want to use, but how do we make it visual?’ and Terry would say, ‘How about a map?’

And he’d hide small things and see if I’d find them. Once you find, say, the ink smudge that’s also a map of Iceland – in context – you realise this book has more Easter eggs than Coles in March. It’s a slim book, but there are about a zillion tiny details in there, and they reveal themselves in different ways.

What inspires you to include or exclude words for discussion in the Word Hunter books? What external forces such as travel for example, influence your writing direction?

This time, I got the chance to use things that had amazed me, but that I wasn’t in a position to devote 20,000 words of narrative to. So, that was fun.

It was very interesting plotting the big story that runs across the first three books, and that create the world that the Top Secret Diary lives in. I needed each of the first three books to be an entire satisfying story, but also part of a whole, and I knew each one would feature three word quests. I also knew I wanted to follow a bunch of different pathways – English is what it is because of that – so I needed a mix of Germanic and Norman French/Latin words and words with very different origins. And I needed to get the characters to certain places at certain times to tell the big story we were telling. That was an awesome puzzle to try to solve. In the case of the last word in book three, I decided I needed something that would take us to the earliest-known book in English, link with an epic Dark Ages battle and get there via Shakespeare and one other interesting step. No easy task. I got there though.

Whose genius was it to include the interactive app, LAYAR for kids to utilise? Do you think this is the way of future storytelling?

That was Terry. The moment he discovered LAYAR, I got fanatical about it. It’s perfect for this book. Perfect. Again, it’s a great way in for someone not rushing to read lots of text, but for whom the idea of using a gadget to reveal hidden content appeals. And no one had more potential hidden content than me. I instantly knew it’d add massively to the reading experience, and I’d get to use a lot more great stuff.

Is it the way of future storytelling? It’s part of it, I’m sure. Technology gives us more tools than we’ve ever had. We just have to be smart enough to use them judiciously. LAYAR would be a gimmick or a distraction for some things, but it’s ideal for this.

On a scale of Never-Do-It-Again to Most-Exhilarating-Audience-To-Write-For-Ever!, how do you rate writing for tween readers? What is most appealing about writing for this age group?

I’m still learning, I think. I’m maybe a more natural writer for adults, but with the right material, time and smart editing, I can end up with something that works for the tween brain, and I’m getting closer to some of the techniques becoming instinctive. Two things are massively appealing about this age group. It’s a huge buzz when a kid comes up to you and raves about their Word Hunters experience and starts sharing some great etymology they’ve dug up. There’s a 9, 10, 11, 12-year-old whose grasp of English, you know, has been altered for the better. I love that. The other thing I really love is going round the schools and doing Word Hunters events. We’ve come up with a show that we can do together or solo that includes loads of visuals, props, games and a lot of noise, and It’s way more fun doing it than I ever thought. Every time I front up to a school with all my Word Hunters’ gear, I’m excited.

word-hunters-the-lost-huntersNow that you and Terry have been entrusted with Caractacus’ archive of Word Huntery (and really really interesting recipes!) thanks to Mursili, and blatantly ignoring all warnings to the contrary, have exposed it to the world, what plans do you and Terry have for the journal? Are more copies likely to appear? In short, what is on the draft table for Nick?

I have a PhD to finish, so no new fiction this year, but in the meantime, I want to make the most of the new material we’ve added to our show and take it around the place. I know that’s technically part of the job, because it might sell some books, but I actually want to do it because of the fun we can have and because of the way it opens a roomful of minds to the prospect of actually looking at our language and how it works, understanding it better and ultimately using it with greater power than most of us grew up being able to. I’ll also be putting in some effort to avoid the wrath of Caractacus. He’s not one to understand that this stuff was just too good to keep hidden.

Just for fun question (there’s always one): Describe a guilty pleasure (of yours) incorporating three words that did not exist before the last century.

Brilliant question. I’ll go as recent as I can. I regularly google (2001, as a verb) idle factoids (1973, invented by Norman Mailer, though the meaning has evolved since) using Bluetooth (1997).

Super! Thanks Nick.

If you reside in Queensland,  you can catch Nick and Terry putting in some effort to avoid Caractacus’ wrath and share their Top Secrets at one of this year’s Book Link QLD’s Romancing the Stars events during March. For details on where they will be appearing (there are Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast venues), and how to book, visit the Book Links site, here.

The Word Hunters Series including the Top Secret Files is available, here.

UQP December 2016

Renee Price Sings with Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who?

imageI just love sequels that cleverly, though subtly, intertwine with small connections but take you on a whole new, unique adventure. Renee Price, author, educator and entertainer extraordinaire has done just that with her second book in the Digby series – an enthusiastic, lively and inquisitive romp jam-packed with mystery, melody and rhythm. Not to mention its upbeat and dynamic illustrations. Today we are fortunate enough to have the opportunity of a sneak peek into the soon-to-be-released, anticipated Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who?! Doesn’t the title just make you want to get out your maracas and microphones and shimmy to your heart’s content!

Renee is here to tell us more about her book. Welcome, Renee!

Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who? is the fun sequel to the intriguing quest of Digby’s Moon Mission. Please tell us a bit about your latest book.

imageDigby and the Yodelayhee… Who?, much like Digby’s Moon Mission, portrays the joy and innocence of children’s imagination and curiosity. Digby and his friends have solved the mystery of a hungry moon, now it’s up to them (and some useful tools) to solve the mystery of a noisy noise! I’m really excited to release this book as it combines my two writing loves; stories and (spoiler alert!) song. J

How do you hope the concepts addressed in the story will resonate with readers?

I hope they will resonate really well! Digby’s stories celebrate friendship and teamwork, curiosity, creativity and problem-solving. I always write with these concepts in mind, yet rather than driving the messages home, deliver them in an entertaining and humorous way, and kids really engage and become enthused about getting involved, becoming part of the story, and problem-solving too.

What is your favourite part of the book? Why?

imageI have three favourite parts (is that allowed?)! I am once again, in love with Anil Tortop’s visual representation of my words. I swear she has a device that can tap into my brain and extract my exact thoughts on how I see my words looking on a page. I also LOVE the barcode design by Ozan Tortop (wait ‘til you see it, it’s so cool!). My third favourite part, and one I hold close to my heart is the musical element of the story. Combining words, pictures and music completes me! J

You are naturally musical yourself. What do you see as the main benefits of ‘tapping’ into one’s musical side? How have you seen children respond through your entertaining show performances?

I could rattle on all day about this one! Music is a universal language. Not only can we communicate through music, we can immerse ourselves in music to soothe, comfort, inspire, excite, entertain… there are no limits. We are all musical! I love visiting schools and preschools, seeing all kids engage in the story-telling that music offers and how it complements the written word. I can’t wait to launch the live performance for Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who?. Music and story-telling galore!

You worked with the talented design team at Tadaa Book previously on Digby’s Moon Mission. Did Anil and Ozan Tortop meet all your expectations second time round? What did you enjoy most about your collaboration on Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who??

imageI will never be able to properly articulate just how awesome this duo is. Not only are they incredibly professional and easy to work with, but they are so supportive and nothing is ever too much to ask. Their communication is top-notch and their work is utterly awesome. The entire collaboration with them has been enjoyable, from storyboard drafts right through to prepping files for print. I urge anyone contemplating a self-publishing journey to get in contact with them at tadaabook.com.

Being self-published you did quite a lot of work to get both Digby books off the ground and onto the shelves. Were you more confident this time? Did you do anything differently? What have been the advantages of already having the initial book under your belt, both in ways of publishing and marketing?

In some ways, I felt more confident because it was familiar and I knew what to expect, but it was also overwhelming at times because I knew what to expect! It’s a challenging journey, and at times, I wondered why I was putting myself through it all again, especially having two young children and little time to juggle everything. Through my first book, there were many things I missed as well, such as wider distribution channels, timing of publication date to meet Book Awards entry criteria, further research into print-on-demand services versus off-shore/bulk printing. But the advantages of having my first book out there, meeting more and more wonderful industry professionals to chat with and seek advice has been invaluable. One big thing I did differently this time was print offshore with a company who publishes a lot of trade-published titles. I’m really excited about the higher quality of my second book.

Fun Question! If you could be any musical instrument, what would it be and why?

Ooh, now this is a tricky one! I’d have to say a double bass – because then I’d finally be tall! J What would you be?

Hmm… I’d have to think about that!

Please share your book’s release date and what we can look forward to in the lead up to launch day and beyond. What exciting activities and events have you got planned?

Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who? will be released on March 1 2017. A book trailer is now available (see below), previewing a little of the musical element of the book, too, and there will be some more sneak-peeks coming in the lead up to the launch. We’ll also have some giveaways and fun stuff via Digby’s Facebook page and website.

Launch Day is Saturday March 4 2017 at Wallsend Library (Newcastle NSW) and is shaping up to be an exciting morning, featuring a book reading, signing, colouring activities and a special music performance! Follow Digby’s blog for updates at www.digbyfixit.com.

Thanks so much, Renee! Looking forward to jammin’ with Digby and his friends very soon! 🙂

BIG thanks to you, Romi! You’re a superstar. J

Pre-order your copy of Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who? here.

Published by Create It Kids, March 2017.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Under the Christmas Tree Part 3 – Self-help for kids

Self-help titles are normally in high demand following the glut of Christmas overindulgence we adults tend to experience at this time of year. Children, thankfully do not time their greed or any other dilemmas for that matter so predictably. Therefore, it’s comforting to know there is an ever-available selection of fantastic kids’ books allowing little ones to explore their emotions, temper their fears, and make themselves feel a whole lot better about themselves and the world they live in. Here a few in picture book form.

Pickle & Bree Guide to Good Deeds by Alison Reynolds and Mikki Butterley

This is a divine picture book series featuring two unlikely companions, Pickle and Bree that centres around sound values and the importance of friendship. Romi Sharp discusses thethe-decortating-disaster various nuances and inspirations behind these demonstrative tales with author, Alison Reynolds, here. Visually exuberant, each title is crammed with subtle etiquette, positive attitude and enough storyline to keep kids tuned in and listening to the messages behind Bree and Pickle’s occasional the-big-snow-adventuredisagreements. How this delicious sounding pair work their way through The Decorating Disaster and decorating The Birthday Party Cake are the first two in the series and reviewed, here. The Playground Meanies and The Big Snow Adventure follow early next year. Supportive, fun learning for 5 – 8-year-olds.

The Five Mile Press October 2015

dingo-in-the-darkDingo in the Dark by Sally Morgan and Tania Erzinger

I adore Erzinger’s playful organically hued illustrations in Morgan’s timeless tale of overcoming your fears, in this case, of the dark. It’s impossible for Dingo to sleep because of his aversion to nigdingo-in-the-dark-illos-dingoht. In desperation, he believes that if he can catch the Sun who watches over him by day and keep it with him by night, he will be safe. His nocturnal bushland friends are quick to come to his aid, gently helping him discover another guardian angel, one who watches over him each night. The value of listening to your friends in times of trouble and doubt are gingerly brought home in this simple and enjoyable tale. Great for frightened pre-schoolers.

Omnibus Books November 2016

agatha-in-the-darkAgatha and the dark by Anna Pignataro

Agatha is one little lassie who also finds it hard to face her dread of the dark. When her fellow pre-schoolers tease and taunt her about it, her imagination threatens to spill into her real world until she realises with a little bit of help from the adults around her, that everyone has doubts and fears about something and that it is all right to admit this. Once Agatha allows her fear of monsters a bit of free reign, she discovers they are something she actually enjoys spending time with, sharing tea parties and sprinkle biscuits with them. Pignataro’s delicate narrative and soft, welcoming illustrations invite calm and help alleviate those pesky fears that follow us about. Highly recommended for shared pre-school reading.

The Five Mile Press 2016

the-fabulous-friend-machineThe Fabulous Friend Machine by Nick Bland

Move over Cranky Bear, there’s a new gal in town and her name is Popcorn. Popcorn is ‘quite simply, the friendliest chicken at Fiddlesticks Farm’. She’s your consummate over-sharer, adjective exploiter, and spreader of good cheer tonic, whose heart of gold is bigger than the henhouse. Every circle of friends has a Popcorn.

One day, Popcorn happens upon a fabulous friend machine, known in human circles as the cursed smart mobile phone. Popcorn is so enamoured by its captive glow and entreating way of connecting to others, that she becomes  obsessed with messaging and soon completely forgets about all her old friends. It turns out her new cyber friends are chicken lovers too but for reasons more sinister than friendship. Will Popcorn’s true friends stand by her and save the day? Or is Popcorn’s goose cooked?

This is my pick of the bunch cautionary tale. Bland deals with cyber-safety and social media mindfulness in a comical yet completely relatable way that is sure to make little kids squirt with laughter and understanding. Highly recommended as an engaging read for 4-year-olds and above and primary schoolers who may be toting their own fabulous friend machines about.

Scholastic Press October 2016

Find more fab reads for your kids this Christmas, here.

kids-reading-guide-2016-2017

 

 

 

Doodles and Drafts – All of Us Together with Bill Condon

 bill-condonBill Condon is a man of modest expectations that do not match his considerable abilities. He writes with charm, wit, sincerity and affection. His novels for young people, of which there are many resonate a genuineness that fascinates newcomers and for many older readers, transports them back to the idle days of their childhood, warts and all. We are fortunate to have Bill at the drafts table today to reveal some of the mental conflicts he still encounters prior to penning a new story (a predicament faced by nearly every author) and some insights behind the inspiration for his latest junior novel, All of Us Together.

All of Us Together is a tale of warmth, heartache, tragedy and hope all rolled up in one very threadbare blanket that was the Great Depression in the early 1930s. The heroes of this tale are ordinary folk trying to etch out a life during an extraordinary period of Australia’s pre-World War II history. Poverty and having to grow up sooner than you ought to thankfully are not issues many modern day Australian youngsters have to deal with on a day to day basis (although unfortunately they are never completely absent from any society). Condon manages to infuse enough hope into what appears an untenable and inevitable situation for Daniel and his family when they are forced to leave their family home and begin afresh, without being morose. All of Us Together is a realistic and unapologetic view of life with an emphasis on the positive power of sticking together through thick and thin.

Here’s what Bill has to say:

On Writing

Recently I started to watch a movie called Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. I didn’t care for it very much and turned it off after a short while. The thing that struck me most about it were the very first words spoken. A teenage boy says: ‘I have no idea how tall-of-us-together-front-covero tell this story’. This is exactly how I feel every time I go into battle with the blank page. One of the problems I have is that usually my mind is blanker than the page.

Although I have been at this game for a long time and have published many books, writing doesn’t get any easier. In fact, it often feels like I’ve never written anything, and have no idea how to go about it.

As gloomy as it may sound, one of the great motivators for me has long been the prospect of death. From the early 80s I wrote children’s poems and plays, short stories, and non-fiction. This was my comfort zone, and I was fairly successful at it. However, I felt that a novel was beyond me.

One night I was talking to one of my two wonderful sisters, and she hinted very tactfully, that perhaps I should try to push myself a little with my writing. I think she even put it more delicately than that, but it was enough to stir me into action. When I was 50, I at long last took the plunge and attempted a young adult novel. I was afraid that I’d fail, but I was even more afraid that I’d die without having tried. The book was called Dogs and it won an Honour Award in the CBCA Book of the Year Awards. Awards are such a lottery, but I was lucky. Perhaps if it hadn’t done well I might have gone back to doing what came easier to me. Even so, it was another five years before my next young adult novel appeared. I’ve now written eight novels, and each one has been a huge struggle.

the-simple-thingsIn 2014 I had a junior novel called The Simple Things published. I thought writing for younger kids would be easier than writing for teenagers, but I was so wrong. It seems any kind of writing is just plain hard for me. I’d written that book and had it accepted in 2012, but it took two years to get published. Then another two years went by, in which I was unable to write anything. So for four years the blank page won out. The one thing that finally got me going again was my old friend Death, or the fear of it.

At the start of this year I had a lot of medical tests done and I’d convinced myself that the results wouldn’t be good. ‘Just one more book’, I told myself. So I went back to a story I’d tried to write the year before, only to give up on. This time I attacked it as if I had a very pressing deadline. From the outset I had a title, All Of Us Together. I knew it was a junior novel set in the Great Depression in Australia, but like the boy I mentioned at the start of this piece, I had no idea how to write it. Then memories kicked in.

When I was young my parents told me of their Depression experiences. If only I’d known that I’d need their help in writing a book one day I would have listened much more closely than I did. But as young people often do, I took them and their stories for granted. I’m sorry to say that it was pretty much a case of in one ear and out the other.

Luckily, some things stuck. I remembered my dad talking about Happy Valley, a ramshackle unemployment camp near Sydney. There were similar camps all over Australia, set up to cater for people who had lost their jobs and homes and had nowhere else to go. I remembered my mum telling me about the tramps who would regularly turn up at her parent’s door to ask for a handout. She said they were always given something to eat.  Both of these memories – Happy Valley, and the tramp asking for food – made it into my book. And too, I borrowed from my own life, as I usually do. When Daniel, the main character in the story, gets into strife, his misdeeds are ones that I got up to when I was a child.

Slowly I got to know and understand Daniel and his sisters, Adelaide and Lydia, as well as their parents, and instead of dreading the thought of going to my computer, I actually wanted to spend as much time as I could with my fictional family.  They had become almost real to me, and I hope readers will feel the same way.

Once I’d found my way into the story and the words were starting to flow, I received my test results. All is fine.  This leaves me free to get on with life, and keep on hoping, for one more book.

We hope so too, Bill!

Thanks for visiting. Discover more bookish revelations about Bill as he continues his Blog Tour around Australia.

About Kids Books November 2016

BLOG TOUR DATES

17 November Di Bates http://www.diannedibates.blogspot.com.au

18 November Clancy Tucker http://clancytucker.blogspot.com.au

19 November Sally Odgers http://promotemeplease.blogspot.com.au

20 November Sandy Fussell www.sandyfussell.com/blog

21 November Dee White http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com
22 November Dimity Powell http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/author/dpowell

23 November Elaine Ousten http://elaineoustonauthor.com/
24 November Melissa Wray http://www.melissawray.blogspot.com.au
25 November Susan Whelan http://www.kids-bookreview.com
26 November Romi Sharp http://www.justkidslit.com

#ByAustralinaBuyAustralian

 

 

Guest Post with Robert Vescio – Connecting Friends Oceans Apart

robert-vescioToday, dedicated writer for children and father himself, Robert Vescio uncovers the story behind his latest picture book, Jack and Mia. In this special guest post, he reveals how his own family background influenced this story.

But first a little bit about Jack and Mia. I have to say I love the look and feel of this book. Claire Richards’ diversity aware illustrations make me want to reach out and stroke the cover and pages. They are vibrant, childlike and at the same time, visually satisfying, filling up the pages with joyful colour, kind of how I’d imagine kids would view their world. The pages themselves are thick and glossy, a delight to turn through. The generous finger feel somehow makes me want to start reading the story again immediately I get to the end which will put this book in good stead for those repeated read requests.

Vescio’s tale is reminiscent of other classic picture books addressing the friendship separation theme such as Amy and Louis by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood but flips the concept ijackandmiamedn that Mia does not move away at first, but rather into Jack’s life. By doing so, suddenly ‘his days were full of rainbows’. He experiences a deep, rewarding friendship with Mia, unlike any other he’s ever had. They share everything together even a case of chicken pox and become King and Queen of their kingdom, until suddenly, Mia has to move ‘far, far away’. It’s not exactly clear where Mia’s family are transferred to however Richards’ illustrations suggest that it’s because of her father’s military postings.

Jack’s kingdom is in tatters, his world in ruin as he worries that Mia will no longer remember him being so far away. Little does he suspect that she shares the same despair as him until he happens upon one of Mia’s books, left behind in his toy box. It is this simple keepsake coupled with a bit of modern day technology that reunite the pair once again and allow their kingdom to flourish and grow…across the oceans.

Jack and Mia is an ideal book to share with young readers who may be experiencing their own emotional lows caused by separation of a loved one, either family member away for work or friend who’s had to move even just to a new school. A great class room and bedside book and possibly one of the most sensitive and well penned by Vescio to date. Now, here’s more from Robert:

‘I wrote Jack and Mia to show how friendships (rich in imagination) can survive distance by finding creative ways to stay connected.

Jack and Mia do everything together. They stick together like paper and glue. Then, one day, Mia’s family moves away – not to another suburb but to another country on the other side of the world.

This is a story that will resonate with children who are about to move or have moved and miss their friends. Unlike other picture books about this subject, Jack and Mia illustrates how today kids are finding it easier to keep in touch with friends and loved ones who live far away.

“Growing up, I had friends that moved half the world away – common for working parents and military families – and the only way to connect with them was to write or call,” said Robert. “Today, technology is changing the way we stay connected. Everything you need is in the palm of your hands.”

Skype hangouts have become a common occurrence in today’s society. It’s as easy as grabbing a coffee with your computer screen. In fact, Skype has become so popular that people use ‘Skyping’ as a verb to connect with people.

Of course, social media has also revolutionised how people talk. Facebook connects over 1 billion worldwide every day.

But, of course, not everyone embraces high tech gadgets. Some people prefer the human touch – a hug, for instance. Jack and Mia is all about how kids can use their imaginations to play together, even when they’re an ocean apart.

Jack and Mia (illustrated by Claire Richards and published by Wombat Books) is a warm and entertaining tale about the power of a child’s imagination and to keep a friendship long and strong, regardless of distance.’

Thanks Robert!

Barnaby and the Lost Treasure of BunnyvilleRobert Vescio  picture books include, Barnaby and the Lost Treasure of Bunnyville (Big Sky Publishing), Marlo Can Fly (Wombat Books) listed on the NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge for 2015, No Matter Who We’re With (IP Kidz). He has more picture books due out in 2016 and 2017.

Wombat Books October 2016

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

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 …

 **************************

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.

Doodles and Drafts – Halloween guest post by Karen Foxlee

a-most-magical-girlHalloween is a time of frights and treats, tricks and magic, guises and remembrance – All Saints’ Day Eve. A fitting time to indulge in a little fantasy and fun. Karen Foxlee’s latest mid grade novel, A Most Magical Girl combines all of these things and will have primary aged readers biting their nails in delicious anticipation. Utterly charming, frightful in places and marvellously magic in others, this is an adventure both girls and boys will find spell binding.

Annabel Grey is a proper little lady of the Victorian times. She devoutly attempts to follow the sermons delivered by Miss Finch’s Little Blue Book, a bible of Victorian social etiquette and expectations but her good intentions derail after she is sent to live with her two aunts in London. They are Shoreditch witches and apart from being Annabel’s new guardians, unlock a heritage Annabel had no idea about, her ability to perform magic.

However, Annabel has no time to dispute their proclamations because her unusual abilities allow her to foresee a terrible future for London and all who dwell there. Mr Angel, evil warlock of the underworld has built a sinister device to use with his black magic to destroy all of the good magic in the world and those who practise it. Only a most magical girl can stop him.

Foxlee’s use of language is bewitching. Annabel’s adventure is fast paced and divinely otherworldly both in spirit and in setting. I thoroughly adored flying along on her desperate quest with Kitty and her strong-willed broomstick. I’m sure children will find A Most Magical Girl just as enchanting.

karen-foxlee2016Today Karen joins us at the draft table to reveal the magical places A Most Magical Girl sprung from.

Welcome Karen! Tell us a bit about kids, authors and story ideas…

The Big Leap

I love to tell my young audiences that kids and authors are pretty much the same when it comes story ideas.  They always look dubious at first.  Authors surely have a special library of previously unused ideas I can see them thinking.  It’s locked away somewhere at the top of a turret beside their quills and their perfect first drafts.

“It’s true,” I assure them.  “You tell me where you get your ideas from and we’ll see if we’re the same.”

Their hands shoot up: from life experiences, from dreams, from things you see! From things you read, things that happened a long time ago, from things you hope for, from television! Story ideas start from things you overhear, from facts, from songs, from comic books, from movies, from computer games, from mixing your own life with the life of book characters that you love! From day-dreaming!

I always love hearing that one.  It validates all my hours spent lying quietly day-dreaming. “Oh my goodness,” I cry, ticking off each one. ‘How weird! My ideas come from all these places too! They come from everywhere!”

Authors let ideas come, we day-dream, we are open to them.  We store them away in our brain machine never knowing when we might need them.  We put an idea from a year ago with an idea from today.  We percolate ideas.  We write them down without knowing what they mean.

But, I tell them, there’s also another way that authors and kids are the same when it comes to story ideas. Their dubious expressions return.  I clamber up onto a table.  Now they start to look down-right worried.

A Most Magical Girl came about as a combination of several ideas I explain.

  1. From an experience (a visit to a museum many years before)
  2. From a life-long love of history and from reading lots books with historical settings
  3. From a love of magic and heaps of little ideas about how magic works

And

  1. A good old-fashioned daydream.

I was lying on my sofa thinking about a museum I’d visited a decade before.  This museum was in London and it contained a recreated Victorian era street, where I wandered for hours.  Years later, on my sofa, I closed my eyes and day-dreamed a carriage arriving on that street.  I imagined a girl stepping down.  She was pretty and a bit posh and also, I knew as I watched her, the owner of a secret.  She stood before a shop window and read the words printed there. Miss E & H Vine’s Magic Shop.  Wow, I thought.  Magic.  I love Magic. This seems good. What’s going to happen here?

“What do you think authors do when they have some ideas that excite them?” I ask from my table top perch.  “What do you do?”

A chorus of replies: Just start! Just start writing! Just start even if you don’t know the answer!

“Do you just LEAP into the story?” I ask.

“Yes!” they shout, because they really want to see an author jump off a table.

And so, because it is the absolute truth about authors and ideas and how they really are not much different to children, I LEAP!

Fastastical, thanks Karen.

kids-reading-guide-2016-2017You’ll find A Most Magical Girl in the new Kids’ Reading Guide, here!

Allen & Unwin September 2016

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

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

Doodles and Drafts – In conversation with Tania McCartney over tea!

Tania McCartney March 2016 cropTania McCartney is no stranger to the world of Kids’ Literature. Her knowledge and ability to produce entertaining, endearing and enduring picture books is nothing short of remarkable and now sitting comfortably in her enviable arsenal of accreditations, is a re-discovered gift – illustration.

Sumptuously rich in detail and stuffed with enough iconic charm to make both Banjo Paterson and Con the Fruiterer feel at home, her first self-illustrated picture book, Australia: Illustrated delivers a (very satisfying) slice of all things Aussie to an audience who might still remember what a frog cake is as well as those young enough to regard the Wheel of Brisbane as their first Ferris wheel ride.

Australia IllustratedIt is a magnificent compendium of facts, landmarks, foods, cultures, flora, fauna, natural wonders, celebrities and attractions playfully illustrated in Tania’s unique, considered hand. Her drawings do more than just tell a story and describe a caption. They fill my visual soul. New South Wales’s Snowy Mountain region is resplendent with wild silver Brumbies (skiiing, horse riding and snowboarding as it were!) for example, revealing Tania’s cheeky take on life and no doubt, her own personal reflections of a land she clearly adores.

Her affection is contagious. From the divinely cloth-bound cover and very first end pages, clean and devoid of the congestion of civilization (a nod to the pre-settlement days of Australia perhaps), to each State and Territories’ four to five page expose of their specific peculiarities, Australia: Illustrated draws the reader in and, sublimely, educates and entertains along the way. The final end pages, a testament to the diversity and wonder that fills this wide brown land (with green bits, girt by sapphire seas) we call, home.

Today, we leave the draft table for a pair of comfy armchairs, a delicious cup of tea and a few precious moments with the gifted creator behind EK Book’s newest non-fiction picture book release, Australia: Illustrated.

Welcome, Tania. It’s great to finally spend some ‘virtual’ time with you.

So lovely to visit, Dim!

Your very first self-illustrated picture book, Australia Illustrated, is out any moment. Has this been a dream come true?

In a word: yes!

Have you been suffering heart palpitations? I know I’d be more anxious that than

Yes. How did you know??

I could hear them all the way up here in Brisbane.

I’m not surprised. They’re pretty thunderous.

Has this book been a bucket-list kind of thing?

Yes and no. It was more of a meant-to-be than a bucket-list-thing, though now it’s been ticked off my bucket-list, I’m happy it got onto that list!

It has actually just been a long-buried seed of an idea but it may not have even grown if the circumstances hadn’t been right. There was a grant I wanted to apply for, I needed a contract to do so, my publisher just happened to think the idea was fabulous at the time (this changes, as you know!) and I got a contract the next day.

You’re kidding?!

I know! If only all contracts were like that! This was a little scary, though, because the idea was quite ethereal at the time. I mean, I knew it would unfold okay… and it did. But I did it all the wrong way.

What do you mean?

I basically winged it. I had an outline, of course, but the content was pretty much an organic process. I was SO lucky to have this kind of opportunity. And I did the cover first. I mean, who does the cover first?

I don’t much about the illustrative process, but that does sound a little dotty.

SO dotty. But it worked because that cover was one of my favourite things to create, and it set the scene for the style and layout of the entire book. I highly recommend up-ending processes!

Are you proud of thi047 qld daintrees book?

I am for the fact that I finished it. It took a year and contains over 1000 hand-drawn images over 96 pages. Half of the finished pages are digitally illustrated, too, so it was a lot of work and I was also in learning mode at the time (re-learning my illustration skills and also learning digital skills—I basically learned as I went).

I’m also proud of it because it’s my first self-illustrated book and I think first self-illustrated books take a lot of courage. Like, a lot. It’s scary because I’ve had years to get used to writing criticism, but illustration criticism is a whole other colour on the palette.

So, my nerves are on standby, for sure—and I have to consistently tell myself I created this book for me, no one else—and that if kids and adults happen to take pleasure in it, that will please me very, very much. In fact, ALL creators should create books for themselves first and foremost. If we created them for other people, we’d never enjoy it as much or do our best work. And once our books are published, they become someone else’s anyway, so it’s nice to hang onto ownership during production!

Oh gosh, Dim, this tea is so good.

Thanks! Isn’t it divine? You’ve written several books about Australia. Will there be more?

Probably not. I do have ideas for books about Australian people (biographic), plants and animals but they won’t be Australia-centric, if that makes sense.

I don’t know why I’ve written so many books on Australia. It’s not a conscious decision. Perhaps it’s because the world is full of so much negativity right now—I fully realise and accept that our country (any country) is far from perfect, but it just feels so nice to celebrate what’s good here sometimes. And there’s so much that’s good. Australia Illustrated is a celebration of w007 au beautifulhat’s good.

Hear hear! What brought you the greatest pleasure when creating Australia Illustrated?

So much. The creative freedom. The ability to play and allow things to unfold. I know it’s not realistic, but it would be incredible if all books could be created in this way! It’s just so much fun. I loved relearning skills and meeting my characters and learning so much about this country that I never knew.

I loved the digital illustration and the layout and design. I also loved doing the finishing art in Photoshop. Creating the fonts was fun.

How did you do that?

With an app called iFontMaker. It’s fabulous. You can get so creative. You can even create fonts for your kids, using their handwriting.

Sounds fascinating, I’d love to give it a go.

You must. I also loved pulling the pages together. It’s so satisfying.

So, hang on, you did quite a bit for this book. Not just writing and illustrating?

027 nsw sydney ferriesI did heaps. I researched, wrote, fact-checked, drew, painted, did digital illustration and mono-printing, scanning, touching up, photography, fonts, layout, design, typography, cover layout and design—all to print-ready PDF. I LOVE doing all this. It’s so satisfying and skills-building. Then I had the wonderful Mark Thacker from Big Cat Design take all the PDFs and whack them in InDesign for the printer.

And my gorgeous publisher Anouska Jones was my editor and second eyes and ears, and I had a group of other eyes and ears, too, and then there was the team at Exisle and our printing coordinator Carol and publicist Alison and all the fabulous book reps and all the wonderful friends and colleagues who helped me authenticate things and help me out with research.

I have an entire page dedicated to thank yous! I also had the backing of the ACT Government—artsACT—for their grant to help produce this book.

So while I did a lot, I certainly didn’t do it alone. No one ever does it alone.

Gosh, we have an amazing bunch of people in this industry.

We do. I feel privileged to be part of it. This really is great tea, Dim.

Of course it is, it’s from Queensland! What’s next for you, Tania?

Well, I’ve just come out of a long rest! I took a lot of winter off, other than ongoing obligations and a little bit of production on some upcoming titles.

 Oooh – can you share them with us?

COVER FINAL smilecryfullcover-smallWell, one is a sequel to Smile Cry with Jess Racklyeft. The other is a follow-up to This is Captain Cook with Christina Booth—and we’re also in the middle of another picture book for the National Library. Tina Snerling and I have been working on books 6 and 7 for the A Kids’ Year series.

I’ve been planning my illustration style for my first illustration commission with the National Library and I’ve been working on a non-fiction pitch for them, too, which I’ll illustrate. And I’ve been finalising a junior fiction manuscript after talks with a gorgeous publisher. Oh—and just like you would, I have several thousand other little bits and ideas floating around.

Yes, something I can relate 100% to! But would you have it any other way?

No! Well, yes—I really needed that time out after Australia Illustrated. It was an enormous amount of work. 96 pages!! So happy to have my energy and mojo back now, though.

Mojo back is good! Tania, thanks so much for stopping by today. I’ve really enjoyed the chat.

Me, too, Dim! And thanks for the tea!

The kettle is always on…

This is more than a picture book, more than a resource; Australia Illustrated is a meaningful, beautiful, thoughtful, piece of art.

Order Tania’s, Australia: Illustrated, here.

Australia Illustrated Launch PosterFollow all the excitement of her Virtual Launch this week with reveals, sneak peeks, more interviews and giveaways, here.

EK Books November 2016

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

Doodles and Drafts – Mark Carthew

Mark CarthewQuiet achievers are those I admire most. Mark Carthew is one of those quiet achievers, except when he’s strumming out a tune on his guitar and reading one of his crazy verse orientated picture books aloud. With more projects on the draft table than you can wobble a pencil at, I thought it was high time we got to know one of Australia’s most consistent and talented children’s authors.

His recent release, Marvin and Marigold  The Big Sneeze with Simon Prescott, exemplifies all that we’ve come to expect of a Mark Carthew picture book: clear, engaging story, lyrical text, and kid friendly pictures guaranteed to spark repeated readings. The Big Sneeze is the first in this mouse inspired cute critter series, ably introducing Marigold to her new neighbour, Marvin, who’s in a pretty woeful way with the flu to begin with. Their friendship begins in a rather slow, fractured way until with a dash of empathy and a slathering of kindness, Marigold comes to accept the true mouse behind all the sneezes, snorts and snuffles. A little classic in the making (which are what The Gobbling Tree and The Moose is Loose! are to me). Let’s find out how he does it.

Welcome to the Draft Table, Mark!

Q: Who is Mark Carthew? Describe your writerly-self.

I am passionate about words, pictures and music… and how each of these things resonates in its own special way to make images. The rhythm of language and the power of alliterative words and phrases shared out loud is something reflected in my stories, verse and songs.

MARK-CARTHEW-FOOTER-2-LOWRES-72DPIQ: A hefty percentage of your children’s titles are picture books. What draws you to creating this genre of children’s literature?

Working with and seeing wonderfully talented illustrators bring your ideas to life is one of the great pleasures of being children’s picture book / illustrated text author. Each book is literally a birth; a special creation and much anticipated result of both vision and passion. Illustrator’s weave their own skills and magic into this creative process, making the genre a unique blend of two imaginations. I also enjoy working with editors, publishers and designers — and they need to get due credit; as they can bring significant (emotionally detached) insights and ideas to picture book projects.

Q: What style of writing do you identify most strongly with; children’s, poetry, song writing? Which style excites you the most to create?

Hard question, as many of my works involve combinations of all three! My picture books, anthologies and plays regularly revolve around narratives with a strong sense of the poetic, alliterative and rhythmic; and more often than not they have a musical or song element that dovetails naturally.

Marvin and Marigold_Cover_frontQ: Marvin and Marigold: The Big Sneeze, is the first in a new series of picture books featuring two new fun characters. Please tell us a bit about it. Why mice? Was this your original intention or is it a product of your collaboration with illustrator, Simon Prescott?

At a meeting in Frenchs Forest Sydney, my Publisher at New Frontier Sophia Whitfield, suggested she would be interested in me developing a manuscript around two animal characters. Reflecting on this while returning on the Manly Ferry, some verses started to flow; and the Marvin & Marigold series began that very day. Some of the key alliterative and rhyming stanzas based around their names, ‘mice’ and ‘mouse houses’ were written on the way back to Circular Quay. New Frontier had just set up a UK office in London and it was Sophia who made the UK connection to Simon Prescott, based on his whimsical style and expertise in illustrating mice.

Q: How did the concept of Marvin and Marigold come to being? What do you hope to portray in your stories about them?

Children’s publishers in Australia and around the world have had great success with picture books concerning cute and endearing animal characters; interestingly quite often with titles featuring ‘two names’.  As mentioned, New Frontier was keen to see if I could pen something original and engaging along similar lines with potential for a series.

While still involving word play and strong rhyme; these narratives also explore some deeper thinking around familiar life scenarios, situations and personal challenges — as well as important themes such as family, relationships, kindness and empathy. A series with two next door neighbours and friends, a boy and a girl, provides the perfect vehicle.      

Q: You mentioned that you ‘enjoy making books that encourage play with language, words and images’. Do you find it easier to ‘tell stories in song’ when developing a picture book as opposed to writing in prose? Describe the process for us.

My creativity seems to flow when I write in a lyrical, rhyming style and I think my love of verse texts, poetry and song writing has influenced my desire to share stories in sympathetic mediums. Poetic stanzas often bounce around in my head like a ‘third eye’ or voice. However, I am also very keen to extend my writing into a more prose based, graphic narrative style for the older primary readership and I have a couple of projects on the draft table in that regard.

The Gobbling Tree with awardQ: Your picture books in particular have strong appeal for lower primary and pre-primary aged readers, providing plenty of predictive reading possibilities and moments of fun to crow over again and again. What is the attraction for writing for this age group?

 Younger audiences respond naturally to call and response, alliteration and the use of strong rhyming, onomatopoeic phrases that are part of my writing style. That natural early childhood interest in shared language and interaction excites me as a writer and allows me the privilege and space to enjoy the fun of word play mixed with drama, music, movement and spoken words.

 Q: What’s on the draft table for Mark?

 2017 will be a big year with three picture books as well as various other poetry and writing projects in production or development.

My long long term illustrator friend Mike Spoor (UK) and I will be releasing a speciality art style picture book Six Little Ducks (with song), a project which evolved from our 2013 Australian tour. The second book in the Marvin and Marigold series, Marvin & Marigold: A Christmas Surprise will be released in the lead-up to Christmas 2017 and The Great Zoo Hullabaloo illustrated by Anil Tortop (Qld) will be out in April 2017. That project was developed during my May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust Fellowship and is in essence the sequel to The Moose is Loose!— but with a different publisher, illustrator and a new twist!

The Five Little OwlsWith the assistance of Karen Small from Small but Mighty Productions, I am planning to produce a 10th Anniversary Edition of my CBCA Honour Book and anthology, Can you keep a Secret? Timeless rhymes to share and treasure. I hope to do that in both eBook & hard copy.

I am also working on some new poetry anthologies and a graphic novel / crossover text for older primary readers.

Q: When not scribbling stories for children, who / what do you like to read?

I enjoy magical realism, folkloric and action / fantasy novels… and reading other writer’s illustrated books!

Q: Just for fun question (there’s always one): If you had to choose to be one of your picture book characters for a week, whom would you choose and why?

 The Zoo HullabalooMmmm… most of my current characters are animals, so that is a tricky question! I’d probably be Jack in my upcoming title – The Great Zoo Hullabaloo. He’s a zookeeper who enjoys being around animals, as well as playing the drums!

PS: Mark has lots of information, activities and free material on his wonderful website — www.markcarthew.com.au

Thanks, Mark!

Marvin and Marigold The Big Sneeze is available, here.

New Frontier Publishing

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

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.

Deborah Kelly Embaces Life’s Magic

imageDeborah Kelly is the talented author and poet of many vibrant and engaging titles including The Bouncing Ball, Jam for Nana and Dinosaur Disco, and her most recent creation is gaining significant traction with middle-grade readers (and their parents) across the country. 

Skydancer’s Escape (Book #1) introduces us to young Ruby Wishfingers’ world and takes us on a wild ride with the mischievous antics of her toy-turned-real unicorn, Skydancer. In Book #2; Toad-ally Magic! Ruby’s wishing fingers create even more havoc when she turns her bratty little cousin into a toad. See the full reviews here.

It is with huge delight to welcome Deborah to Boomerang Books to discuss her books from the wonderfully ‘magical’, creative and unputdownable series – Ruby Wishfingers.

Deborah, can you tell us how this series was created?

The name ‘Ruby Wishfingers’ literally popped into my head while I was grocery shopping with my kids at Aldi! How could I ignore an extraordinary name like that? On the drive home I started to wonder who Ruby might be. Over the weeks and months a story began to develop.

What were your inspirations and how did your ideas develop?

imageLike most writers I draw upon my own experiences, sometimes consciously and at other times subconsciously.  There are snippets of people I know in all the Ruby characters. There is definitely a lot of me as a child in Ruby. There’s a lot of my Nana in Granny Wishfingers, too. My experiences as a mother were useful when Jellybean hit the terrible twos, too! I spent a few years in Qld so my experiences with cane toads probably inspired much of Ruby Wishfingers 2: Toad-ally Magic!

But there are other little things I didn’t realise had subconsciously crept in until family members pointed them out. Like how my grandfather used to come over from England in the summer to stay on our farm in New Zealand, and because he liked his own space we used to hire a caravan and set it up in the garden for him. As a child I had a serious addiction to strawberry jam sandwiches, so somehow that got in too!

What were your favourite books or authors to read as a child, and have any of these influenced the wondrous adventures in Ruby Wishfingers?

I loved all kinds of books as a child, but two that stood out were ‘The House that Sailed Away’ by Pat Hutchins and ‘The World around the Corner’ by Maurice Gee. I loved anything by Roald Dahl (especially The Twits) , Dick King-Smith and Judy Blume. I loved Willard Price’s ‘Adventure’ books. I loved the Narnia books. And I loved the old ‘pick-a-path’ and ‘choose your own adventure’ stories, too.
All of these books have stayed with me, so they probably have influenced my own writing!

Did you plot the whole series beforehand or have they evolved over time?

The Ruby series has absolutely evolved over time. It has been fascinating for me to watch Ruby and her world grow. One of the reasons I love writing is that I can’t wait to find out what’s going to happen next!

How do you ensure that each book flows smoothly from one to the next?

I work intuitively. If it feels right, I explore further, and if it doesn’t feel right I turn around and try something else. I’m not sure that’s very helpful advice, sorry! Everyone has to find their own way of working but this seems to be mine at the moment. I’m still very much a learner and perhaps with time and experience I’ll develop a more streamlined approach!

Are any of the characters based on anyone you know? Who would you say you are most like?

Deborah as a child
Deborah as a child

I do recognise a lot of myself as a child in Ruby. She’s curious, resourceful and optimistic. She tries her best to do the right thing and has a strong belief in extraordinary things, like magic. I think Ruby and I would have been great friends!

What, if any, challenges have you faced whilst producing the series?

Sometimes I have to remind myself not to overcomplicate a story by cramming in too many ideas!

What have been the most rewarding moments with creating and promoting the Ruby Wishfingers books?

imageThe team at Wombat Books have been wonderful to work with. I am so thrilled with how the books have turned out.  Seeing my characters brought to life through Leigh’s illustrations has been such a treat! I am enjoying visiting schools and libraries to talk about the series, especially when the kids are familiar with the stories and characters. I love hearing kids repeat lines or phrases from the book and hearing who their favourite characters are. And it is always exciting to spot your books in the wild-especially in the front window of a bookshop! I’ve enjoyed launches and other promotional events for the Ruby series with Newcastle Libraries, Lake Macquarie Libraries and our wonderful local bookstores Maclean’s Booksellers and Harry Hartog, all of whom continue to be hugely supportive of my work.

How have your fans taken to Ruby? Any stand out moments / responses?

I’ve had lots of lovely feedback from parents, teachers and kids about how much they are enjoying the series so far. I’ve heard a few anecdotes of staying up way past bed time because a child (and parent!) just had to find out what happened next! Seeing photos of kids dressed as Ruby for book week parades is a real thrill and I love to see children’s artwork inspired by the book, too.

The images in the books are gorgeously energetic and enchanting! What has it been like to work with illustrator, Leigh Hedstrom? Was it a collaborative process or did she have most of the creative control?

I was very happy for Leigh to let her imagination and talents run wild! I adore her work- she has captured the characters so perfectly. Leigh lives in a different state to me but we’ve chatted via email and I’d love to meet her one day!

imageCan you give us any clues as to what fun we can expect from Ruby Wishfingers 3: Hide and Seek?

Another exciting fast paced adventure with plenty of laughs and more than a few surprises… terrifying tyrannosaurs, turbo charged worms and giant tantrum throwing toddlers may also be involved!

How many books have you planned for this exciting series? When will they be released?

At this stage there will be five books in the Ruby Wishfingers series. The third book in the series, Ruby Wishfingers: Hide and Seek is due for release November this year. I’ll be launching it on November 12th at 2pm at Belmont Library (NSW). There will be a reading from the story, balloons, giveaways, lots of yummy treats and fun activities!
The fourth and fifth books will be released in 2017.

Fun Question! If you could wish for anything in the world, what would that be and why?

That’s a tricky one, because as we know, wishes don’t always turn out exactly how you might expect! But sometimes I wish that the world would slow down. Life has become so fast paced; we often miss the magic that is all around us.

Finally, do you have any questions or comments (or secrets) for our readers regarding your spectacular Ruby Wishfingers series?

imageMany of the names in the Ruby books are ‘borrowed’! I took George and Lillian Wishfingers’ names from my (past and present) dogs. Norman the goldfish has my grandfather’s name. And Ruby’s teacher, Mr Wilson, is named after one of my daughter’s favourite teachers!

Deborah Kelly can be found at her website and Facebook Page, and the dedicated Ruby Wishfingers fun and educational website can be found here.

Wombat Books, 2016.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Picture Books with World Dementia Month in Mind

image

September is Dementia Awareness Month, an important initiative providing Australians with further knowledge and understanding of how dementia affects individuals, their families and carers. The theme for this year is ‘You are not alone’; a sentiment that aims to help those impacted to feel supported and empowered even in difficult circumstances.

Dedicating their time and energy to raising awareness of the topic of ageing grandparents or other family members is a passionate group of Australian children’s authors and illustrators. Their personal, heartfelt stories of hope and compassion continue to provide encouragement, optimism and inspiration to many children and families confronting change and illness in the ones they love.

imageDebra Tidball‘s When I see Grandma fits perfectly with the theme of ‘You are not alone’ on several levels. It is a poignant story of a little girl who brightens the dreams of her grandmother in an Aged Care Home. With gorgeously illuminating illustrations by Leigh Hedstrom, this book includes both heartwarming and practical strategies for creating, and rekindling fond memories.

Debra states, “When I see Grandma shows children interacting in a space that is not usually thought of as child-friendly – an aged care home. If parents of young children can see beyond the sadness of their own experiences and take their children to visit aged relatives in this setting, it can provide an enriching experience for all.”

She further relays, “Research shows that people with dementia and their carers are significantly lonelier than the general population. The children in When I See Grandma share very simple things they enjoy with their gran and the other residents – like reading, singing, and playing peek-a-boo, all giving the message, in a very natural, easy way, that their grandma is not alone.” Debra wrote the book to “let families know that they are not alone in their experiences and to encourage families to keep connections with elderly and ailing relatives so that they too, know that they are not alone.”

More on the book and a Boomerang Books interview with Debra Tidball can be found here.

In a recent article, Debra provides enlightening guidance for children and parents on reading to grandparents. Find it on the Wombat Books blog here.

Wombat Books, February 2014.

imageLucas and Jack focuses on the power of memory to establish close bonds between a boy and his Grandpop. Divinely illustrated by Andrew McLean, and gently written by Ellie Royce, this book is a fantastic medium “to start conversation, memories and stories flowing.”

Ellie explains the power of listening. “As a picture book about older people’s stories, it [Lucas and Jack] encourages the listening which often leads to such enriching connections being formed.” Read the full article here.

More on Ellie Royce’s book and a Boomerang Books interview is here.

Working Title Press, June 2014.

imageVictoria Lane (Thieberger) is the author of Celia and Nonna, with timeless illustrations by Kayleen West. This gentle book embraces the hard realities of dementia and adapting to change, but at the same time highlights strength, togetherness and faith in the ones we love.

Victoria encourages readers to find ways to accept and manage these often confusing times. “It is so important to keep children involved and informed, whatever changes are happening in the family… Celia finds her own delightful way(s). I hope that Celia and Nonna will help to start a conversation with children when a loved one is affected by dementia or old age.”

The full review and Boomerang Books interview with Victoria Lane is here.

Ford Street Publishing, September 2014.

imageDo You Remember? by Kelly O’Gara and Anna McNeil is a comforting, poignant story of memory and togetherness of a mouse and her grandmother. The celebration and the gradual fading of those memories are gently portrayed using the child’s artwork as a medium to remind her grandmother of her own rich and wonderful stories. This book shows a beautiful way to support and encourage children and their elderly grandparents to preserve and strengthen their bonds.

Wombat Books, February 2015.

imageHarry Helps Grandpa Remember, authored by Karen Tyrrell, and illustrated by Aaron Pocock, is a story of compassion, humour and hope. Young Harry provides a forgetful, confused and lost Grandpa with cleverly integrated coping and memory skills. Here is a book that gently introduces “children to the realities of Dementia and Alzheimer’s.” Find out more about the book here.

Digital Future Press, April 2015.


Alzheimer’s Australia also has resources to help provide reassurance to families. Another website to explore is Dementia in my Family, where you can find most of the above picture books listed in the resources section. Click here for more information on dementia and loneliness.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

Doodles and Drafts – Guest post by Wai Chim – Author of Freedom Swimmer

Wai Chim # 2Today we welcome author, Wai Chim to the draft table. Her motivation to write Freedom Swimmer, stems from the little known history of her father and the need to understand more about the horrific events that took place during the period of China’s Cultural Revolution. Here is her story about his story.

Writing my father’s story

As a child, my father’s journey from a poor farming village near Shenzhen to ultimately living and working in a small Chinese restaurant in Long Island was fascinating to me. But for the most part, he was tight lipped about his past. While I can recount so much detail about my mother’s family and her childhood in Hong Kong (from her primary school friends to how she was always in the trouble with  my grandmother) – I knew very little about my father’s past.

Part of this was because he was pretty much the typical ‘Asian dad’ – quiet, emotionally distant and he didn’t talk about his feelings or say much about his life.

Back then, I could probably tell you three things about his life in China:

  • His parents had passed away when he about sixteen and he only had a younger sister left in China
  • His family had been very, very, very poorFreedom Swimmer
  • As a teenager he had left his village and made the swim to Hong Kong

I was particularly fascinated by ‘the swim’, probably because I was (and still am) such a terrible swimmer. I knew from a very young age that ‘the swim’ was an important part of his life story – and that terrible things must have happened for him to have made that choice.

A large part of my initial inspiration and motivation for writing Freedom Swimmer was to come closer to understanding my father’s history and this important piece of his past. However as I started writing, it became so much more than that.

Mao Tse-tungMy father was a great resource and opened up about a lot of the details of his life, but through my research, I found out there was so much more going on behind the scenes. My father and his family suffered greatly as a direct result of some of the horrible policies that were put in place at the national level. The events that transpired weren’t isolated to my family, a single village or even one particular region. An estimated 45 million deaths occurred as a result of the manmade famine caused by Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward while millions more suffered at hands the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution.

And like my father, the people who went through it all simply weren’t talking about it.

I was shocked. The loud-mouthed, ‘my first amendment rights are sacred’ American in me was floored that that this had happened and people like my dad were just keeping quiet. As I delved deeper and deeper into the past, I wanted to wrap my arms around the young boy that was my father and cocoon him from some of the tragedies of his past.

My father, of course, is an incredibly strong and amazing man – he couldn’t have made it this far if he wasn’t. And it was because of his dreams of a better life, of finding better opportunity for himself and his future that I can even be sitting here today, writing a book based on his past. That I could be so shocked by some of the things I learned, and that all of his suffering is completely unfathomable compared to the silly #firstworldproblems that I complain about.

And for that, I am eternally grateful.

Thank you Wai.

Read the full review of Freedom Swimmer, here.

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/

Dreaming of Adventure with Alison Binks

imageBe taken on a mysteriously wonderful midnight adventure with the captivating story, Caspar and the Night Sea, and the publishing journey of its creator; Alison Binks.

Awoken by the sneaky light of the moon, the gentle breeze and the sounds of the waves gives Caspar the perfect opportunity to go ‘sailing’. Without a stir from his soundly sleeping parents and the chooks in the shed, the young boy and his dog venture out to the shore with their trailer and boat in toe. Something feels different to other nights, and with the guidance of the dolphins and the whispers of the fishes, they are lead to a most glorious vision… Whales! But some secrets are just too good to share!

Binks writes this narrative with a dreamy sense of delicacy and atmosphere that takes its readers into the scene. Her illustrations are equally entrancing with their eerie kind of feel conveying light amongst the darkness, and gentleness within the movement.

Capturing the essence of adventure and imagination, Caspar and the Night Sea is a humbling and soulful tale perfect for preschoolers at bedtime. It is also a brilliant facilitator for encouraging ecological study and advocacy amongst its readers.

Windy Hollow Books, 2016.  

I am thrilled to have the lovely Alison Binks discuss the inspirations and processes behind her new book. Thanks, Alison!

imageCongratulations on the release of your debut picture book, Caspar and the Night Sea! How have you found the whole publishing process? What did you do to celebrate its launch?

Thank you Romi.  I was of course amazed and delighted to be selected for publication. Following that excitement I was dismayed when I learnt the length of time the publication process was due to take, (years) and in the end it was even slower. So I feel it’s been a long road, but now I realise how it all works I’m just keen to get going on another book.

I have not had a launch as yet but I’m still hoping to organise an event of some sort. It may be when the weather turns, and we all feel more encouraged to get out of our houses. Maybe when the children can contemplate the idea of sailing in a warm breeze. I’ll make some cupcakes and set up with a stack of books somewhere.

You have done both the text and pictures in this book. Can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you come to write and illustrate for children?

imageI wrote this story for my son Caspar. It was to be a gift for him, and a process for me of immersing myself in the imaginary world of my little boy, who was then 2, and dreaming big dreams for him.

My background is in architecture, design and fine art. I exhibit my work, and usually paint landscapes in oils, but this was an opportunity to work on a smaller scale and it was lovely to sit down at a desk in a small pool of light, and work in a different way.

Caspar and the Night Sea is a wondrous tale of a boy and his dog venturing out on their boat into the depths of the ocean, in the darkest part of the night. Where did this inspiration come from? What were your intentions for readers to grasp from this imaginative concept?

I wanted a tale about a child who has secret adventures.  We lead such busy lives, with children tagging along through the adult world much of the time, timetabled.  I wanted to work with the idea of childhood freedom and children’s ability to do things on their own.

imageThe image of a little boat sailing off over a dark sea came to me very early on and I built the story around this mental picture.

Your illustrations are mesmorising with their mix of dreamy watercolours and ink drawing to create movement. Do you experiment with different styles in creating the right ‘feel’? How have you come to develop this style of art? What is your favourite medium to use?

When I travel I often take a small watercolour sketchbook, and watercolour was the first painting medium I used. For these illustrations I was influenced by the work of other artists, Ron Brooks and Robert Ingpen in particular.  (See The Bunyip at Berkley’s Creek or Ingpen’s Wind in the Willows).  The challenge was that the story takes place in the dark. I studied the way other artists approached this and decided that for me to lay the black ink over the watercolour would allow a palette of subtle colours to exist beneath the black night of the ink.

Fun Question! If you could be any creature in the ocean what would it be and why?

I have always sailed, and dolphins seem to me to be having the most fun in the water down there, surfing on bow waves, leaping out of the water for no particular reason. And they seem to have a language of their own and that appeals to me.

What tips would you give other emerging authors or illustrators eager to have their work published?

I was very lucky to find a publisher for whom the story resonated.  I don’t have any tips for that, except to search for the one person who really connects with what you are doing.

What’s next for Alison Binks? What projects are you currently working on?

My hope is simply to have enough success with this book that Windy Hollow, my publisher, will agree to print the next one!  There is a more complex story both in my mind and partly on paper, waiting until I have time to come back to it. I’ve painted a first illustration and have ideas about a new colour palette and a slightly different approach. But first I am doing the legwork to get Caspar and the Night Sea into the bookstores, schools, kinders… wherever I can, and spreading the word.

All the best of luck and success! Thank you so much for the interview, Alison! 🙂

Thank you.

Look out for Alison Binks and her amazing work at her website .

Purchase Caspar and the Night Sea.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

DOODLES AND DRAFTS with Wendy Orr on the inspiration behind Dragonfly Song

Dragonfly SongHang onto to your bronze daggers as you are in for ‘a riveting, mythic Bronze Age adventure’ –  we have the remarkable Wendy Orr at the draft table today, escorting us on her Blog Tour for her stunning new novel, Dragonfly Song. And like all terrific stories, there is usually an even more fascinating story behind it; how it came to light, what energies and events conspired to motivate its first heartbeat. Today, Wendy shares her inspiration with us.

Orr Wendy, preferred author photo, credit Roger Gould

 

Welcome Wendy! Tell us, what was the inspiration for Dragonfly Song?

Sometimes it’s easy to see where an idea’s inspiration has come from. Sometimes it’s not – and sometimes some of the things that inspire it don’t end up in the story. Dragonfly Song is one of those mysteries.

Certainly one thread comes from childhood and teenage reading of Greek myths and Mary Renault’s retelling of the Theseus myth, The King Must Die. (There are many stories about Theseus, a king of Athens with a typically complicated hero life. However he is best known for being one of seven youths and seven maidens sent as a tribute to King Minos of Crete. Minos sent them into a labyrinth to be devoured by the half-man, half-bull monster, the Minotaur – but luckily, Theseus defeated the Minotaur instead of being eaten.)

04Then, about twenty-five years ago, I dreamed about a white robed priestess leading a long torchlight procession up a steep green volcanic mountain.  As a story grew around the dream, I started reading up on the intriging civilization that flourished in Crete around four thousand years ago.  The Minoans seem to have worshipped a mother goddess and been ruled by a priestess until they were taken over by the warlike Mycenaeans of mainland Greece. Their palaces had grand court02yards and stairways, flushing toilets, lightwells, and painted frescoes on walls, ceilings and floors. They had beautiful art, gold and jewellery; images of priestesses holding snakes and of young men and women leaping over the backs of giant bulls. What if these bull-leaping games had inspired the original myth of Theseus?

Although the rather melodramatic novel I wrote then was, luckily, never published, the images of that world never left me. Eventually I started playing with the idea of a completely new story set in the same era.

It started to take shape on a 2010 visit to New Delhi. Culture shock can be a great inspiration: new sounds and smells; beautiful buildings and overwhelming poverty. Home again, doodling with a fingerpaint app, I sketched a girl with a sad twisted mouth and tangled black curls. This wasn’t the direction I’d expected, but one evening in my tai chi class, the form of the story appeared in a luminescent blue bubble –  and no, I can’t explain it exactly what I mean by that, but it was powerful enough to bring me to tears. The next day I saw a dragonfly, the exact same colour as the bubble.

And dragonflies kept on appearing whenever I made a significant decision or saw something that helped to shape the story:  finding an offcut of chipped flint on a Danish island; visiting the mysterious deep blue source of a French river that would have seemed even more mysterious and holy in ancient timeDragonflySongBlogTourGraphics…

Ah the synchronicity of life…Thank you, Wendy!

Watch Wendy explain more, here. Catch up with her again as she continues her DragonFly Song Adventure and tour.

Stick around for my full review of Dragonfly Song coming soon. Meantime you can get it now, here, if you can’t wait to read it first!

Allen & Uwin June 2016

 

 

 

 

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!

Janeen Brian’s Hunger for Stories Leaves us Wanting More

imageJaneen Brian is the much-loved, award-winning author of over 90 books for children, many of which have been translated and distributed around the world. Some of her most popular titles include I’m a Dirty Dinosaur, I’m a Hungry Dinosaur, Where does Thursday go?That Boy, Jack, I Spy Mum!, Hoosh! Camels in Australia, Silly Squid! and Pilawuk- When I was Young. Janeen is also widely known for her wonderful contributions to the industry, winning the Carclew Fellowship 2012, being Ambassador for the Premier’s Reading Challenge, and presenting at a number of conferences and schools. It is an honour and thrill to have had the opportunity to find out more about Janeen and her latest gorgeous books, Mrs Dog, Where’s Jessie? and Our Village in the Sky (reviews here).

Where did your passion for books and writing children’s stories begin? Are there any particular books or authors that have played a significant role in where you are today?

I think the passion was always there. I can’t remember a time when words and stories didn’t fascinate me. The sound and power of words has always intrigued. However, we were a book-poor family. And I went to a book-poor school. It was just how it was. I now realise I’ve always carried that ache inside of me. So, I guess it had to come out somewhere, sometime. I’m grateful it did. I would probably credit becoming a teacher and having daughters of my own with the eventual, tentative, stepping out into the children’s writing arena. But I also had a couple of angels in my later adult life who gave me a nudge.
Without a childhood plethora of books or reading matter, I’m on a constant treadmill, trying to capture the thrill of books which are embedded in the psyche of many of my writing colleagues, for whom those books were friends. And so I swing; to read back to my childhood and forward to what is out there today. I’m constantly reading. At times, I wonder if I evaluate enough of what I read. It just seems that I’m hungry or thirsty for stories and poetry. So many authors affected me, but two who immediately spring to mind are Robin Klein and Ruth Park. Their writing touched me; it was full of exquisite detail, rich in character and expressive in language. And they spoke of our country and culture, and at times, our history.

Your writing style varies between heartrending poetry, to playful rhyme and informative and lyrical narrative. Do you have a preferred style of writing? How has your style evolved over the years?

I think once again it comes down very much to what pleases me, particularly aurally. I don’t have a particular favourite way of writing. I write in the style that suits the work. And I find it interesting that although the style might differ according to what I’m writing, people still say they can recognise my work when they see or hear it. I guess my style is like a maypole, with many ribbons attached – each one individual but connected. I think, or hope, that my style has become more honest and richer as it’s evolved. That would please me.

Some of your recent books, in particular Our Village in the Sky, Where’s Jessie? and Mrs Dog, all carry a timeless feel with their beautifully lyrical language and images, as well as encapsulating more sophisticated topics such as cultural differences, loss and survival. What draws you to write with these kinds of themes?

Although at times, I can feel like a suburban fringe-dweller, I have to remind myself that my life has been full of interesting twists and turns and often it is the idea of survival that is uppermost. I think that many everyday people are heroes, tackling life’s mountains. However, from different, and sometimes difficult challenges comes strength and confidence. The word used a lot today is resilience. I think I try and show that in my work. We all battle at times, in various ways, and sometimes we have to dig deep to find courage or strength to continue. Or to look at a situation in a different way. Often, too, help can come when one person takes the hand of another.
I love to see a world of real things; kindness, laughter, nature, play and creativity. I’m not much of an adult in the highly commercialised world.
I think all of this affects the kind of stories and poems I write – and the themes and language embedded in them.

Your most recent release, Mrs Dog, is a truly moving story of unconditional love, nurturing and courage, with elements of humour and adversity blended in the mix. Did this story emerge from a personal experience? What aspect of the story is most meaningful to you?

imageLike in most stories, Mrs Dog is a mixture of experience and imagination. Over a period of years I had collected two names. They sat around in my head for ages with no story. Over time I linked them to farm-style incidents told to me by my husband, and then changed the ideas during many drafts until the final story emerged. It certainly wasn’t one whole package to begin with. I really like the fact that when under pressure, a person/creature is often able to rise above their own expectations, as Baa-rah did in his effort to save Mrs Dog.

What has been the most insightful feedback or response to Mrs Dog so far?

The unconditional love and compassion shown within an unlikely inter-generational relationship.

Illustrator Anne Spudvilas has provided the spectacularly dreamy artwork for both Where’s Jessie? and Our Village in the Sky. How did the pairing come about? How do you feel her illustrations complement your words? Were you able to work closely on each book?

imageIn both instances, I was able to work closely with Anne, which is not the usual experience with author and illustrator. Often seeds are sown many years before eventualities and this was the case in our first collaboration, Our Village in the Sky. Anne and I had become friends through many creator-style catch-ups, and she liked the photos and experiences I told her of my stay in the Himalayan mountains. When I later applied for a Carclew Fellowship for the 2012 Adelaide Festival of Literature, I devised a picture book of poems as a potential project and asked Anne if she’d illustrate. Fortunately I won the award, and in a serendipitous situation, Anne took her sketches and several of my poems to Allen and Unwin, who subsequently published the title.
Anne was able to use images from my photos to create her scenes and characters and we worked closely on the layout and flow of the book, with me making several trips interstate.
In both books, Anne’s palette and style suit the stories perfectly and I am full of admiration for her work. It evokes both emotion and sensory appreciation.
Where’s Jessie? is a story triggered from the sighting of a real teddy bear that’d travelled to the outback on a camel. Because I’d earlier researched and written an award-winning information book, Hoosh! Camels in Australia, I was able to provide Anne with much visual material. Anne could also access the historical database of Trove in the National Library of Australia.
There was story collaboration, too, when Anne suggested changing the character of the person who eventually finds Bertie, from an Afghan camel boy to an Aboriginal boy.

Where’s Jessie? is based on the real life travels of Bertie the bear through the outback in the early 1900s. What was it about Bertie’s story that caught your attention? What was it like to research, and how did you feel meeting the daughter of Bertie’s owner?

imageWhile visiting a country Cornish Festival in South Australia in 2011, I entered a church hall to view a collection of historic memorabilia. The real Bertie bear was seated on a chair, looking slightly tatty but well-loved. The note attached mentioned two facts; he was 101 years old. And he’d travelled to Alice Springs by camel. What a thrill! I had no idea of what I might do with that information, but I was finally able to track down the now-owner, the daughter of the original-owner, who’d been a baby at the time she’d received the bear. I’d had enough experience in the outback (flash floods, included) as well as my earlier research with camels, so it was really the story I needed to work on. At the launch of Where’s Jessie?, the now-owner spoke movingly about how well-loved the ancient bear still is within their family; citing that he is still the comforter of sick children and the soother of bad dreams.

Our Village in the Sky is beautifully written in angelic language that reflects the perspectives of different hard-working, yet playful, children in a remote village amongst the Himalayan mountains. This book is based on your observations whilst living there. What else can you reveal about your experience? What was the most rewarding part about writing this story?

imageI felt compelled to write about this village, and particularly the children, because I was able to interact with them at the time, using sign language or games. Or I simply watched them. Only a few villagers spoke any English at all, and it was very minimal. Culturally, and because of the language barrier, it was not possible for me to ask about many things pertaining to women or family life. So my focus was the children. I noted and photographed. I wrote a diary of my feelings and thoughts. But, back home, when I came to write, it was the children I wanted to write about. The images in my mind decided that the ‘story’ would be a series of poems depicting their life, so different to children in the Western world. The most rewarding part was the connection I felt through the words, and that I had acknowledged my experience in that area of the world.

What do you hope for readers to gain from this book?

Curiosity. Understanding. Awareness. And being able to relate to the child-like aspects in each poem.

Can you please tell us about your working relationship with illustrator Ann James on the I’m a Dirty/Hungry Dinosaur books? Was this collaboration any different to any other of your author-illustrator partnerships?

imageAnn and I had been published together in a book called Dog Star, an Omnibus/Scholastic chapter book in the SOLO series and we’d become friends mainly through catch-ups at various festivals and so on. At one festival at Ipswich in 2009, I asked Ann to consider a poem I’d written. It was called I’m a dirty dinosaur. Over discussions, Ann agreed to illustrate it and with the poem and a few sketches the material went first to my agent, Jacinta di Mase, before it was picked up and published by Penguin Australia. (now Penguin Random House Australia) Ann and I chatted about the text and pictures throughout the process, just as we did with the second book, I’m a hungry dinosaur. Both books have been a lovely culmination and collaboration of ideas.

What were the most rewarding and challenging aspects of creating the ‘dinosaur’ books?

imageWorking with Ann is a joy. She is alive with ideas, energy and enthusiasm. We both enjoy the playfulness of the books, and the act of play and fun with language is important to both of us. Ann also likes to minimalise her line work to give the maximum effect and I think she’s done this brilliantly in both books. I also like to hone down my words so they shine without any extra unnecessary baggage.
There’s also an integral trust between the two of us, which is wonderful.
The challenge came in the second book. It’s not an unusual dilemma. The first is the prototype. The second must follow the format yet still have its own life. We believe we achieved that in I’m a hungry dinosaur!

If you could be any kind of dinosaur, what would that be and why?

I guess if I could be any dinosaur it would be the one Ann created!

As an experienced author, what advice would you give to those writers just starting out?

Apart from reading and writing, I think it’s interesting to write down passages from other authors’ books. Writing slows your thinking down. You might enjoy reading the passages, but when you write them down, you are considering the authors’ motivations and reasons for writing those particular words. You might notice more fully the effect those words have. You might feel the pull of a different style, which could loosen your own, stretch it or challenge it. Finding your own voice can often take a long time. But playing around with other people’s words can sometimes be quite surprising.
Work hard. Understand that writing is a craft. As such, there is always room for improvement. And improvement brings you closer to publication.

And finally, if you could ask our readers any question, what would that be?

Some authors write in a particular genre. Their readers know what to expect. However, I write in many different genres. Do you see this as problematic in your reading of my work? **

Thank you so much for the privilege, Janeen! 🙂

Thank you, Romi. Your wonderful, thoughtful questions were much appreciated.

Janeen Brian can be found at her websiteFacebook and Twitter pages.

** Please respond to Janeen’s question in the comments below, or head over to Twitter and join the thread at #JaneenBrianAsks

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Interview with Kelly Doust, author of Precious Things

Precious Things by Australian author Kelly Doust follows a handmade beaded collar through history to the present, touching on the women who owned it and wore it in the past. Kelly Doust joins us on the blog today.Kelly Doust

Thanks for joining us Kelly. How did you become interested in vintage clothing?
I fell in love with all fashion when I was really young. I was that kid into dress-ups who always wore weird stuff to mufti day with makeup applied on the bus, inevitably having to wipe it off when a teacher noticed. My local charity store and flea market first exposed me to vintage clothing, but I also adored my mum’s seventies denim flares, cork wedges and plunging velour evening gowns, which seemed so risqué and fun and spoke of grown-up adventures I was dying to become old enough for.

Do you believe that a garment or handmade item can carry part of the essence of the previous owner? (Do you believe an item can carry good vibes or bad juju?)
Not really, but I wouldn’t mind being proven wrong. I wore a refashioned eighties wedding dress for my own wedding and didn’t give it much thought at the time, although the true story behind why it ended up in a vintage clothing store probably isn’t the rosiest.

In most cases there’s no way of learning the history of a vintage garment. Does this make you sad or do you prefer the wonder and intrigue?
It’s a kind of sweet sadness, the idea of stories being lost but it’s also the natural way of things. I’m always visiting fashion exhibitions because they share photographs and plaques with all sorts of fascinating contextual information. The May 2016 issue of UK Vogue has this brilliant fashion story featuring costumes worn by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards during their years of touring with The Rolling Stones, but Kate Moss is modelling them with a thoroughly modern twist. That’s so inspiring to me.

The Crafty Minx Kelly DoustThis is your debut novel, but you’re certainly no stranger to writing. You’ve worked in the publishing industry and published a number of books (including: Crafty Minx, A Life in Frocks, Minxy Vintage and The Crafty Minx at Home) and I was wondering where you do most of your writing?
Usually at home, but last year we were renovating and I ended up writing in my local cafe most days. It was actually quite useful, because I tried to write as much as I could before ordering another coffee, which made me quite productive. I try to have only two cups a day, so it really focused my mind on writing quickly!

What are you reading at the moment?
Inga Simpson’s Where the Trees Were and Katherine Brabon’s The Memory Artist, which recently won the 2016 Vogel Award. Both are so beautifully written. Inga Simpson’s passion for Australian natural history just shines through in Where the Trees Were, and I love the premise of the novel, which slips from present to past to uncover the story of the trees her protagonist, Jayne, is trying to protect. The Memory Artist is also quite staggeringly accomplished, especially for a first novel, and its Russian setting is very evocative. I find myself reading it in awe.Precious Things Kelly Doust book cover

What’s next? Apart from promoting Precious Things, what are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a second novel. Not a sequel to Precious Things but another novel set in England with many similar themes. I also have a new day job, which involves choosing books to turn into audiobooks. It’s really thrilling – I’m reading so widely and love the idea of bringing authors to new readers or listeners.

Thanks for your time Kelly and good luck on your next novel!
Thanks so much for interviewing me for Boomerang Books, Tracey – I so appreciate it! ☺

* Photo credit: Amanda Prior & Ruby Star Traders

Jen Storer’s Glorious Story

 

imageJen Storer; word expert, her books and writing encapsulating the most brilliant use of language to tantalise every sense within its reader. Popular and highly acclaimed chapter books include Jen’s bestselling Truly Tan series, Tensy Farlow, Crystal Bay, the latest awesome series Danny Best, and most recently awarded with a CBCA notable is the adventure mystery The Fourteenth Summer of Angus Jack. And new to Jen’s writing repertoire is the absolutely scrumptious Clarrie’s Pig Day Out (review here), and boy, has she entered the picture book world with a tang! I mean fang! No, BANG! Today I am thrilled to welcome Jen Storer to the blog to discuss all things writing and Clarrie! ☺️

Congratulations on the latest release of your sensationally hilarious picture book, Clarrie’s Pig Day Out! I’d like to start with a question from my Miss 6. How did you think to write such a mixed-up story?!

imageThank you, Romi! I’m thrilled that you and Miss 6 enjoyed Clarrie.

Most stories come to me from all over the place. A bit here. A bit there. But it’s easy to say where Clarrie came from.

I was in a café having a cup of tea and people watching. At the next table there was a
grandmother with a little boy on her knee. She was reading the boy a story. It was one of
those vacuous picture books you often come across in cafes. I could tell the boy
wanted to enjoy the story. But I could also see, by his body language, that this was a
lousy story.

I thought, what would I do if I had to read a kid a crappy story like that? The answer was instant. I’d make up silly words!

I rushed home straight away and started writing a story about an old farmer who got his
words muddled.

Obviously the language in the story is intended to challenge the readers’ thinking and play with words. What other teaching and learning experiences do you hope your audience will gain from this book?

I never EVER consider teaching kids when I write stories. The minute I start thinking like a teacher I’m no longer thinking like a storyteller. Any lessons that come from my books are purely coincidental. My entire purpose is to delight, entertain and inspire.

Clarrie is such an eccentric yet humble and romantic type of character. How did he develop in your mind? Is he based on anyone you know?

He’s a darling, isn’t he? When I wrote the story I was studying art. I was learning to draw circles and spheres at the time. Swinging the ellipse. I’d been drawing loads of eggs in my sketchbook. And the eggs had evolved into cakes. And chickens. And then this funny old bald guy in gumboots and overalls. It was Clarrie! The first thing he ever said to me was, ‘I’m very fond of chookens. They make good friends and their eggs make delicious caks.’ (That didn’t quite make it into the story…)

The illustrations by Sue deGennaro are deliciously playful, just like your story! How did you collaborate with one another? How long did the process take? What do you like most about Sue’s art style?

imageI love Sue’s imagination and the whimsical worlds she creates. And I adore her subtle use of collage. If you look closely you can see that she’s used the insides of window envelopes (bills) to make crockery and decorate various buildings. I also love her gentle palette. The original artwork is a dream. And she adds delightful quirks: Clarrie’s odd socks. His dapper suit. The way he’s a bit of a dandy. Miss Winterbottom’s fabulous 70s inspired frock. All these touches are Sue’s inventions.

I can’t remember how long we collaborated but it was quick. From the time Sue signed up to the time of final art was about eight months I think. Maybe a bit more.

We met a few times in person. I saw initial roughs. Then later a heap of half completed
paintings that we all swooned over. It was so exciting to watch Clarrie’s world come to life.

I was hands-off in terms of my vision for the story. I wanted Sue to bring her expertise to it. Lisa Berryman, my publisher, was the same. We just sat back and let Sue play.

I think that’s one of the best things about working on picture books. Seeing what someone else, another professional, does with your text. Seeing their interpretation, and thinking, ‘Wow. I never saw it that way. But this looks awesome!’

Fun Question! Can you rephrase this sentence Clarrie-style:
I could read your book all day.

I could feed your chook all day.

You’ve had tremendous success as an author of chapter books for younger and older readers, including Truly Tan, Danny Best, Tensy Farlow and Angus Jack, amongst others. When you’ve established characters like Truly Tan and Danny Best do you find that you need to reread from the beginning to remember things they’ve done?

imageNo. I carry their worlds in my head from book to book. Occasionally I’ll flick back to check a fact or the name of a minor character. Also, I’m always writing one book while at the same time checking first, second and third pages of the previous one. So the worlds are in continual motion.

Do you plot out the whole series carefully beforehand?

Not on your life!

How do you ensure that everything ties together and flows on from one book to the next?

Each of the books in Truly Tan and in Danny Best are stand alones. There’s no overarching plot that I need to keep track off. All I have to get right is the characters, their relationships and the world they live in. And the voice, of course. That has to be consistent.

You juggle your time between writing, illustrating, speaking, presenting and blogging! How do you manage such a hectic schedule? What’s your secret?

I don’t always manage. Behind the scenes I’m often flouncing about swearing and cursing. But when I’m not doing that, I’m actually a really determined plodder. I’m committed to this work. I’m a boots and all girl. If I decide to do something I’m in it for the long haul.
I’m getting better at saying no these days, too. And listening to my intuition. It provides impeccable guidance. I’m obsessed with my work. Obsessed. I haven’t decided if that’s a good thing or a bad thing!

I love your new inspiring initiative to teach other writers all the tips and tricks of the trade with your girl & duck workshops and online tutorials. Can you tell us more about how this came about and what you have and will be offering interested participants?

imageGirl and duck is my passion. It came about in a stealthy manner while I wasn’t really looking. But now it’s up and running I’m consumed by it. I have exciting plans for it. I adore teaching. Love, love, love. I can talk about creative writing until the cows come home. I’m busy writing and illustrating a book for the ‘duckettes’. I hope to have it available by the end of the year. Then there’s another book planned to follow the first. I’ll also be running online classes. More on that soon. It’s a huge commitment. Under the surface we’re paddling like crazy. There’s so much techy work going on. And business school. It’s awesome. The online world offers astonishing opportunities.

You’ve been in the industry for a while now with many successes and accolades. What have been the most rewarding highlights of your career? Is there anything that you are still striving for?

Apart from dreaming up ideas and developing projects, meeting readers is still the biggest highlight. As well as receiving their mail.

But these days it’s also about inspiring others (adults) to pursue their passions and embrace their creativity. I never planned to do this but ‘creativity coaching’ is something that fills me with joy. I’ve had a tricky journey to get where I am. I’m a late bloomer. First book published at 42 etc. I like to urge younger creatives to get cracking while they can. The sooner the better. But even if you feel you’re too old, forget that! Age is a crock.

There are loads of goals I’m still striving for. Growing girl and duck. Writing. Painting. Drawing. Coaching. Teaching. Travel. You name it. I’m just getting started.

Besides all the numerous projects that we’ve mentioned above, what else are you currently working on? What can your fans look forward to seeing from you in the near future? A sequel to Clarrie’s Pig Day Out perhaps? 😉

imageI’ve written a follow-up to Clarrie. But that’s a secret…
I’ve written the first 30,000 words of a follow-up to Tensy Farlow. It’s about another girl in that same world. I’m desperate to finish it but I need to go to the UK to research it.
I have my girl and duck books.
I’m into the second act of my screenplay.
I have a picture book coming out with Andrew Joyner in August.
Book three of Danny Best is half written. Book two comes out in November. Mitch, Lisa and I are going over the illos and layout now.
Book five of the Tan series has just been released, Truly Tan: Hoodwinked! And I’m halfway through book six. One of my readers named it. It’s called Truly Tan: Trapped! I’m still figuring out where I’m going to trap the poor little peanut.
Books seven and eight of Truly Tan need to be thought about. And written (ahem).
There’s loads of stuff going on.

Thank you so much for joining me for this interview, Jen! It’s been an honour! X

Thank you, Romi, you’re an angel! xo

imageMore information on Jen Storer can be found at her website and Facebook page. Jen’s writing for children workshops can be seen at her new girl and duck website. Plus, details on her Melbourne-based ambassador role for The Footpath Library, an initiative to enrich the lives of homeless people with free books, can be found here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

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

Liz Anelli Brings Life to Desert Lake

imageLiz Anelli is the author and award-winning illustrator of many, many colourful projects including children’s books, magazines, advertisements and educational websites. Her stunning artwork extends to printmaking, graphic design, watercolours, gouache and collage. Howzat!, View From the 32nd Floor and One Photo are a few of the picture books she has illustrated. Today I am thrilled to welcome Liz to Boomerang Books to tell us more about her art work, research and the illustrative creation of her latest gorgeous book, Desert Lake.

The Review:

Desert Lake is a fascinating story of survival and prosperity amongst the flora and fauna inhabiting the seemingly barren land of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre.

imagePresented with two narratives, Pamela Freeman‘s text poses as both a lyrical and animated format and opposite, a smaller font with interesting facts. She tells the story of the rains as they arrive from the north to awaken life beneath the salty surface and enable a propagating community of birds and other wildlife to the area. Liz Anelli‘s brilliant illustrations beautifully depict this contrast, intensity, warmth and spirit with her multi-textured and layered paint, lines, pattern and complementary earthy colours. Even as the birds migrate to more plentiful waters when the lake dries, Anelli’s images carry forth the promise and richness of this outwardly desolate world.

Desert Lake literally thrives on its magical presence. It is captivating, rewarding and exquisite on so many levels. This is one information book that all primary classrooms would benefit from in their studies of Australian topography, climate change and the arts, and for the simple pleasure.

The Interview:

Welcome Liz! You have a style of art that has a distinctive flair yet is diverse in its themes and technique. Did you always paint this way or has your art changed over the years?

My style has certainly evolved over the years. I started out as a line and watercolour wash girl, then discovered how beautifully gouache paint sits on grey paper and gravitated towards dabs of bright colour within a black ink line (which I still do now for some illustrations). About 15 years ago I started incorporating collage and printmaking and learnt Photoshop so that I could choose which elements to cut and stick manually and which to add using my computer. Now I dip into materials and techniques depending on the age audience, subject and purpose of the illustration.

Do you have a favourite piece or project that you have worked on? Why is it special to you?

imageSO hard to choose! I think I love my illustrated maps above anything else, especially the first one I made of Newcastle, NSW because it was my way of befriending my new city (and country). I cycled around the Port-side suburbs for weeks with my camera and sketchbook, stopping to record every interesting building and industry and asking millions of questions. I found myself helping a prawner boat unload its catch, scampering up the side of a grain ship, in awe under the massive stacker-reclaimer wheel at a coal terminal and whizzing round the docks with a minibus full of excited school children who all wanted to show me their ‘best place to play’.

How did you come to illustrating books for children? What do you love most about this industry?

I illustrated (and wrote) my first picture book whilst still an art student way, way back. But as a child I was much more into reading and writing stories than drawing. My sisters, brother and I indulged in hours of imaginative play. My favourite was the one where we acted out snippets of radio programmes, pretending the stations were tuning in and out as we drove on long car journeys… must have been VERY irritating for our parents (but they never did replace us with a real car radio). I got hooked on drawing at Art School. You walk along the street and see stories being played out all around you. I draw what’s going on and voila… a picture book emerges.

The texture, depth, symmetry and combination of colours and media in Desert Lake are simply divine. How did you plan your process? What were the most challenging aspects in creating this book?

imageThe hardest thing is knowing when to stop. I try out colours and textures on separate bits of paper (and sometimes scan them in when they work better than the ’real thing’). I do a lot of research drawing at the ‘roughs’ stage but then clear my references away to make the artwork more intuitively. There are so many choices to make but in the end each spread has to work as a whole picture in relation to its neighboring pages.

What was it like to collaborate with author Pamela Freeman? How much creative licence did you have working on Desert Lake?

imageWalker’s ‘Nature Story Series’ allow author and illustrator a more poetic approach than other picture books and I had the sense of a huge amount of freedom. The manuscript changed a lot along the way and although this entailed more work for both of us I think it made the book even better in the end. Our editor played an expert role as catalyst. My compositions come from a lot of real life observation (I had an ASA Research Award to visit the Outback) mixed up with a good shake of imagination. It was cold and dry when I went to the Lake so I also spent hours drawing and watching the colours on the water here in Newcastle Harbour.

What little secrets can you share about the making of Desert Lake? Any minute details that your audience should particularly be aware of?

An insect (that triangular shaped back and white one who appears on several pages) crawled into the seat of my jeans while I was drawing at the lake, I swallowed more than one bush fly and I went to sleep at night with all my clothes on… it was very, very cold. Can you see the little bug hiding on the night-time scene near the end of the book? Tracing paper collage makes very good frogspawn – just the right translucency.

Fun Question! If you lived in the desert which animal would you choose to be and why?

Hopping mouse – so sweet! NOT a bush fly.

You have recently launched a marvellous exhibition of your artwork at the Lovett Gallery in Newcastle. Congratulations! Please tell us a bit more about it. What have been the highlights so far?

We wanted to allow viewers inside the process of creating a picture book so have included the story of our research trips and examples of my storyboards as well as all the original paper artworks. Visitors can spot the variations between these and the printed pages, working out for them selves what parts I ‘collaged’ on screen. We deliberately asked the framer to include all my rough notes and workings around the edges of each piece and I love it when children ask me if I know there is an apple sticker on one… yes, I eat a lot of apples when I’m working.

imageI’m also enjoying watching another piece of desert floor come to life. We created a 4 metre long panel of one of my sketchbook paintings of the sandy ground with cracks and a few scrubby plants on it and I’ve been helping children make creatures using collage, paint and print in workshops. I think there are over 100 creepy crawlies on there already.

What would be your greatest piece of advice for emerging artists wanting to succeed in illustrating children’s books?

Don’t give up! Network, work hard and make pictures about the things you love not just what you think publishers would like to see. Be yourself, that’s the thing they won’t find anywhere else.

Thank you so much for talking with us, Liz! It’s been a real pleasure! 🙂

To connect with Liz Anelli please visit her website, Facebook and Twitter pages.

Her Desert Lake exhibition displays original artwork, sketches and studies of Liz’s research in the outback. It is being held at the Lovett Gallery in the Newcastle Region Library until May 14. Click here for more details.

Desert Lake is written by Pamela Freeman, illustrated by Liz Anelli and published by Walker Books, 2016.

Pre-order your copy of Desert Lake.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Getting Serious about Series # 4 – Ripper Reads for Girls

Lola's Toybox Patchwork PicnicI don’t usually like to categorise reads into which gender they might appeal to better. I believe every child is individual and will find a story to fit their unique reading tastes no matter how pink the cover or how boyish the hero. To say that boys should be directed to sports orientated titles and little girls to books about bunnies is pre-historic thinking and infers we (little girls) don’t like puppy dogs’ tails and snails. Simply not true! However, there can be no denying that certain reads will attract certain readers more powerfully than others. This luscious collection of chapter books and mid-graders will undoubtedly appeal to the sweet-toothed predilections of little misses given they are choking with cuteness and gee gees and unicorns.

Lola’s Toy Box by Danny Parker Illustrated by Guy Shield

This is a perfectly placed first-time-chapter-book series for little readers just putting their A B Cs together. These books provide useful stepping-stones in Lola's Toybox On Story Seathe crossover from readers to more exciting chapter books, each with a softly delivered message and each peppered with adventure. Anyone with an animated imagination and insatiable love for their toys will adore Lola’s Toy Box series. Lola and her toy clown Buddy, chance upon a portal – an old toy box, which transports them time after time to the varied lands of The Kingdom where they experience toy-filled adventures beyond their wildest dreams.

The Patchwork Picnic is the first of this series so far. Other exciting toy-land destinations include The Plastic Palace, On the Story Sea, and The Treasure Trove. The Timberfield Talent Show is the very latest release. Wild and whimsical, just what five to seven-year-old emerging readers need.

Hardie Grant Egmont 2015 – February 2016

Pine Valley Ponies The Forbidden TrailPine Valley Ponies by Kate Welshman Illustrated by Heath McKenzie

Pint-sized people from six years of age who love ponies, have ponies, ride ponies or want to ride ponies will fall over themselves with this new pony series. McKenzie’s tummy tickling drawings  (his horse characters are darling!) ably romp alongside short, easy-to-read chapters about Maddy and her pony, Snowy and their induction into the Pine Valley Riding ranch.

It’s not all smooth cantering for Maddy however, as she attempts to fit in amongst the fancy-pantsed, equine experienced girls of her class. However, the call of adventure soon overrides difficulties and cements her love of Pine Valley Ponies The Pony Showhorse riding, as it will for those absorbed in her antics. Start with The Forbidden Trail and move onto The Runaway Foal then prepare yourself for The Pony Show.

There is much for horse-orientated kids to love here, from the bright pastel and foil covers, enticing page layouts, pony profiles, nifty horsey Q & A and loads more besides. Well recommended.

Scholastic Press October 2015 – March 2016

Ruby Wishfingers illoRuby Wishfingers by Deborah Kelly Illustrated by Leigh Hedstrom

Ruby Wishfingers is an absolute crack up of a series. I loved the first instalment, Skydancer’s Escape and can’t wait to get into Toady-ally Magic. Suitable for slightly older primary aged readers, this tantalising new series still features terrific line drawings and easy to digest chapters but it’s the humour infused story line, flavoured with more than a hint of magic that truly makes Ruby irresistible.

Ruby Wishfingers Toadlly MagicShe’s your run of the mill ordinary girl with a peculiar name who one day awakens with a weird tingling sensation in her fingertips. She soon realises it’s a force to be reckoned with and that you should be careful what you wish for.

Loaded with lovable characters, talking pocket-sized unicorns, indignant felines, jellybean rain and magic, Ruby Wishfingers books will not disappoint those who love adventure and fast zany reads. My pick of the crop.

Wombat Books March 2016

Keeper of the Crystals Runaway UnicornKeeper of the Crystals by Jess Black Illustrated by Celeste Hulme

The things you’ll notice first about this adventure fantasy series are the brilliant covers and sparkly titles. Each of this four part series about Eve and her unlikely companion, Oscar lures young readers in like fish to wriggling worms. It begins when the pair unwittingly unleash the power of the crystals after they open a forbidden wooden box in Eve’s Nan’s attic.

The initial crystal is of a small unicorn, which is a portal into a mysterious fantastical far away land, Panthor. Suggestions of environmental instability and political oppression in each of the strange new worlds Eve and Oscar are transported to resonate throughout these tales albeit all disguised with action, myth, and fantasy for the young reader.

Keeper of the Crystal Eve and the Last DragonAn attractive series that would suit readers seven years and above and those with a penchant for the surreal.

New Frontier Publishing June 2015 – March 2016

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Jess Racklyeft Touches Hearts with ‘Smile Cry’

imageJess Racklyeft is the illustrator behind her adorably heartwarming debut picture book. With her beautiful, vast array of design and art work and use of mixed media, Jess’s passion and talent shines brightly in Smile CryToday we find out more about her illustrative inspiration.

Review:

“It’s such a cool book! It never finishes and you could just read it all day!” – Miss M, age 6.

The fun flip-over format with its narrative meeting in the middle is just the beginning of what makes this book so special. Smile Cry, where you can start at either end, deliciously offers its readers a gourmet of emotive goodness to explore and ponder.

My two daughters, ages 3 and 6, perfectly fit the target age group for this clever story, and our first reading experience was … unforgettable! Each page turn, whether we were enjoying the kinds of ‘smiles’ or the types of ‘cries’, motioned us into role-play and thought-provoking action.

imageThe reactions of the three cute characters – piglet, bunny and cat – are easily identifiable as they face a mixed bag of situations, and feelings. Tania McCartney‘s text is wholesome and pure with sentiments of depth that delve further than it appears on the surface. Her beautifully written phrases allow their readers to consider the subtleties of each emotion. It may be a sorrowful, disappointed or even a joyful cry, or an ecstatic, satisfied or grimacing smile. From a ‘hug a cuddly monkey smile’ to ‘perhaps it’s a lost cry’, or a ‘tickle smile’ to a ‘tickle cry’, the level of warmth and empathy will touch each heart in different ways.

Jess Racklyeft‘s illustrations perfectly suit the delicate nature of the story with their pencil and watercolour softness and pastel tones, not to mention her sweet, cuddly characters that exude personality and warmth. I also love how Jess has included fine details and layers to turn each spread into a story of its own.

Smile Cry is a divinely heartfelt book, chock-full of sweet and savoury sentimental moments. It is a valuable resource for building foundations for sound emotional development. Readers from age three will simply gobble it up at every turn, over and over again.

EK Books, March 2016.

Interview:

Congratulations, Jess, on the recent release of your first picture book, Smile Cry! How do you plan on celebrating its launch?

Thank you so much! On Saturday April 9th I’ll be launching the book at The Little Bookroom in Carlton North (Melbourne). This is my local bookshop, and since I wandered in there almost four years ago with my baby has been a place of inspiration and support… They’ve been stocking my cards and prints, and now my first book.
On the day we will have tasty baked goods, drinks and lots of games. A musician friend Claire Hollingsworth will be playing a few songs, and I’m looking forward to sending it off into the world with some cake and champagne. The fantastic author Tania McCartney recently launched the book in Canberra and it looked like such an amazing day.

What were your thoughts on Smile Cry when it was handed to you to illustrate?

It was a big build up as I had entered a competition to illustrate the book that Tania and the publisher Anouska had run on an online drawing group, the 52 Week Challenge. I had seen a couple of lines of text from the book to create my entry, but wasn’t sure how the narrative would work or the characters etc. So when I first saw the manuscript I was so excited about the possibilities. The text was so image-filled, Tania had put together such a sweet and sensitive manuscript and my mind was racing with the illustrative possibilities!

What was it like to collaborate with the talented Tania McCartney?

She’s just a dream to work with. She’s so passionate about children’s books (like me!) and has so much respect for the industry and the process. I used to work for a children’s publisher and I know usually the author and illustrator don’t have a great deal of interaction in the process, but I was so lucky EK Books allowed us to work closely on it. I think this resulted in the best outcome for us both – and we had so much fun through the process. She’s an inspiration.

What little secrets can you share about the making of Smile Cry?

imageOn “An ate all the pies smile” I snuck in a little copy the paper The Age. One of my favourite pastimes pre kids was an afternoon of sun lounging with the paper in the park with some baked goods. Sadly, this doesn’t last more than a few minutes these days, but I drew it remembering those days very fondly J. Also, I created a very subtle colour palette for each side – Smile has slightly warmed tones, and cry cooler.

I love the softness of your lines, tones and sweet characters in the book. This style perfectly suits the gentle nature of the story. What was your favourite part of the book to work on? Why is this meaningful to you?

Thank you so much! It’s funny because I did another book around the same time, and by coincidence they are coming out the same month (The Midnight Possum) – it’s a completely different style though, and I didn’t actually consciously plan out the look as much as I now see they have. It just sort of came together in a very easy way (with a lot of drawing, of course!).

imageIn terms of my favourite part… I loved working on all of it to be honest! It’s been a lifelong dream to illustrate picture books and the process was just a joy. I think the pig walking in the forest page was perhaps my happiest one as it is my happy place being in nature too.

Your illustrative repertoire is wide with work including children’s books, painting and design of cards and prints. Is any one venue more challenging than the rest? Where do you plan for your art to take you in the future?

I had a long time working in other industries before working as a freelance illustrator, so when I set out to make my career viable and stable, I wanted to gain work in a lot of areas. It’s been pretty challenging trying to keep up with all the different projects and clients, especially since we had a second baby, but I do enjoy working on lots of different things. I would say picture books are the most challenging as you have to dive so deeply into the project, but it is something I would like to do more of. I hope one day to both write and draw my own books, as well as create a line of décor products for kids (I love translating illustrations to different mediums – eg doonas!).

Sounds gorgeous!

Have you always wanted to be an artist? What do you love about illustrating for children?

I have, although I got swept into working in a variety of other jobs before I got back to my true work love, illustration! I love the fact that you are creating work that a child can connect with and it may stick with them for the rest of their life. I reflect back on my favourite books from my own childhood, and the way they spoke to me so strongly in an emotive or imaginative way.

What does your work space look like? Is there an item in your studio that you cannot live without? What are your favourite mediums to use?

imageWe are really lucky in that we have a “granny flat” out the back of our garden which has beautiful light, and an intercom so I can hear when our bub wakes! I love working with watercolours (and always have) although more and more I am having fun experimenting with digital media. I’ve also been scanning in my 3 year old’s artwork and use some of this for collage material for my work, or for drawing with her – for example last October she did some watercolour marks and I made an Australian bird painting a day in ink.

How did you get your break in the industry? What is your greatest tip for emerging illustrators?

imageI sent the most amazing lady, Patricia Howes from Omnibus, my portfolio for 6 YEARS! While I look at my first work and grimace, she was so kind and would send the most helpful feedback – and called me to say I had a job illustrating a book with Sally Morgan (you could have blown me over with a feather). I’ve also been lucky to have yearly catch ups with Anna Walker, and amazing people like Tania and EK Books to support me through the process of working on my first book. So I guess I am saying – make connections, friendships and keep chipping away, as all those incredible people from the industry are usually also very kind and happy to share their knowledge.

What are you currently working on? Any exciting projects or upcoming events that you can share with us?

In October my next book will be released with Scholastic, called One Little Koala. Right now I am working on many many client projects, from designing resin jewellery for Erstwilder, creating portraits for my Etsy shop, designing candle labels for a non-profit, painting a peony for a wedding gift, designing fabric etc…. I keep a little overview of projects on my website www.jessesmess.com as they come to fruition. But in the background I am always musing over the next possible book project, so hopefully next year I will have a couple more out in the world J

Looking forward to seeing more amazing art from you. Thank you so much for joining us at Boomerang Books, Jess!

Thank you so so much for having me!

Purchase Smile Cry.

Find details for the launch here.

Jess Racklyeft can be found at her website, on Facebook and at her Etsy store.

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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.

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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

Alison Reynolds Guides us Through her Books on Good Deeds

imageAlison Reynolds is the author of over 50 books for children and adults, often incorporating important life skills and values in the most entertaining of ways. Some of her children’s titles include the Ranger in Danger series, The Littlest Bushranger, A Year with Marmalade and A New Friend for Marmalade. Today Alison answers questions about her newest gorgeous series; Pickle and Bree’s Guide to Good Deeds.

Both picture books making their debut in the Pickle and Bree series adopt a value system approach that not only facilitates awareness of the importance of positive social skills, but they are absolutely refreshing, cute and funny too.

The Birthday Party Cake is an emotionally-charged tale of the two, competing characters – Pickle and Bree – both with their own opinions on how best to plan a party (and style the cake, in particular) for their Panda friend. Disagreements lead to tears, but a little compassion, understanding and acceptance goes a long way. The depth of passion, drama and empowerment will certainly fuel the hearts and minds of all readers to strive for a more peaceful society. (See my previous review here)

The Decorating Disaster deals with another delicate situation in which Pickle and Bree find their stubbornness to avoid collaborating leads to an array of disastrous mishaps. In the end, a paint-splattered Bree and her bear friend in a wallpaper ‘Pickle’ choose harmony over discord. Totally relatable, comical and endearing, another ‘enriching’ book for young children to cherish.

Welcome Alison!

Congratulations on the release of the first two books in the series – The Birthday Party Cake and The Decorating Disaster!

Thank you, Romi! They were a lot of fun to write.

You also have another two being published in August this year. How did the idea for this series come about?

The publisher had asked me if I was interested in writing a series of books about positive behaviour and social etiquette, but at a higher level than please and thank yous. They were looking for an illustrator and found the marvellous Mikki Butterley, and Pickle and Bree were born. Mikki already had an illustration of Pickle and Bree, and after I looked and thought about them for a while the ideas for the books emerged.

Is there a plan to write more Pickle and Bree titles in the future?

I hope so! There are lots of different issues to explore. And I love writing about Pickle and Bree.

Each book focuses on the concepts of values, social etiquette and positive behaviour in a delicate yet engaging way. In what ways do you hope the readers will utilise and benefit from the books?

I hope these books are a strong narrative with a super subtle message in there. I really want children to realise that they’re not alone and that many of us face the same problems interacting with others. I also try to show Pickle and Bree’s different attitudes and to create empathy for other people’s point of view and experiences. I also wanted the books to be fun and entertaining!

What advice or strategies can you provide for parents and teachers wanting to get the most out your stories?

The final page of each book has a Guide to Good Deeds, which acts as discussion points for parents and teachers. I like to ask children how they would feel in Pickle and Bree’s situation and if it has ever happened to them. It’s also fun to act out some of the situations taking turns to be Pickle and Bree, so the actors get to see each other’s perspective.

imageIn The Birthday Party Cake we see differing personalities with each of the characters. Bree is outspoken, Pickle is fun-loving and goofy, whilst their friend Jason is more reserved. Where did you draw your inspiration for these personas, and which one represents you the most?

I didn’t realise it until after I wrote the book, but Pickle is very much like my lovely dad. Easy-going, fun-loving, patient but stubborn. He’s also got quite a few characteristics of my husband and old Labrador Toby. Bree is my mum. Impetuous, full of energy, well-meaning, and says what she thinks. Jason is Jason. He’s one of those lovely reserved children, who like to join in but want to avoid the limelight. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I think I’m a mixture of both Pickle and Bree.

imageThe Decorating Disaster is agonisingly humorous with the mishaps rolling on one after the other! Have you ever had a decorating disaster of your own?

Pass! Actually, the way my children remember their childhood every decorating attempt ended in a disaster. But both my dad and husband’s feet always ended up in the paint tray at some point. And my mother was a star wall paperer. Probably our best effort was when I made curtains and somehow hemmed them on the wrong side.

Did you handle it as well as Pickle and Bree did in the end?

My husband often encourages me to go out when he’s decorating. And, apparently I have the unfailing capacity to spot the one bit on the wall that hasn’t been painted. But we always end up laughing.

imageThe illustrations by Mikki Butterley are warm, seductive and rich with texture. What was it like to collaborate with Mikki?

I feel incredibly fortunate to collaborate with Mikki. I have perfect faith in her to create wonderful illustrations and reinterpret the text in a new way. She adds a whole new life to the story. Unfortunately, Mikki lives in UK, but one day we’re going to meet!

How do you feel her illustrations best compliment your words?

She takes my words and weaves her own magic. I feel as if we’re playing a duet, and without both parts the book would be flat and uninspired.

What do you like about her style of art?

I love the sense of life and movement her illustrations capture and the lushness and warmth without being cloying. And they’re so much fun. Especially the added extras, like mice or birds to find.

imageAs mentioned, many of your books centre around the gentle guidance of important life values and strategies. Why is this element significant to you and your writing?

I’m not sure how it happened exactly, but I’ve been approached by four different publishers now to write on this theme. I’m not sure if I come across as incredibly polite, but suspect it’s more that I write these subjects with a light, playful touch. I also do believe that we’re all in this together and manners help us all get along better.

What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of creating books like yours?

Coming up with a different angle. So far I’ve managed to do this as they’ve all been slightly different. One of the next 2 Pickle and Brees is about bullying, but think I’ve managed to pull it off hopefully and still make it a fun read. The most rewarding aspect is if I can make this a kinder, gentler world for somebody, I’m happy. I feel lucky being able to communicate with so many different children through my writing.

Name one exciting event that you most look forward to achieving this year.

This is a very exciting year for me. I should have a series coming out, currently called Project X, and of course, Melbourne’s very own conference for kids and YA writers and illustrators, KidLitVic2016 Meet the Publishers in May. And Pickle and Bree’s Guide to Good Deeds 3 & 4. (I used to be excellent at mathematics, but I’ve gone off as you can see by my telling 3 events.)

Completely understandable! Thank you so much, Alison for answering my questions on Pickle and Bree! I’m very much looking forward to the next two instalments! 🙂

Thank you, again for inviting me. And I’m looking forward to the next two instalments too.

Find more information on Alison Reynolds at her website

Pickle and Bree’s Guide to Good Deeds is published by The Five Mile Press, October 2015.