Qld Literary Awards vs Prime Minister’s Literary Awards

Coal CreekThe winners of the Qld Literary Awards and the PM Literary Awards are being announced on the same evening – Monday 8th December. You can follow the PM announcements live at ‪#PMLitAwards  or tune into ‪@APAC_ch648  at 7:15pm ‪http://on.fb.me/1pPELkt .

It is fantastic that both these awards exist. They include outstanding Australian books and their shortlists promote these titles as well as our valuable book industry. Their prize money is very different, with the PM winners receiving $80,000 each and the shortlisted authors receiving $5,000 – the amount the winners of the QLA receive.

These two awards also have some shortlisted books in common (keep in mind that the awards have different eligible voting periods, causing some books to be shortlisted in different years).

The books shortlisted in both awards are:

Fiction

The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan (Vintage Australia)

Coal Creek, Alex Miller (Allen & Unwin)

Children’s Fiction ROS

Rules of Summer, Shaun Tan (Hachette)

 

Young Adult Fiction

The Incredible Here and Now, Felicity Castagna (Giramondo)

History

Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War, Joan Beaumont (Allen & Unwin)

The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, Clare Wright (Text Publishing)

There are no overlaps in the non-fiction and poetry categories, with strong, diverse contenders in both.

The Qld Literary Awards has some extra categories:

University of Southern Queensland Australian Short Story Collection – Steele Rudd Award

Letters to George Clooney, Debra Adelaide (Pan Macmillan Australia)

The Promise, Tony Birch (UQP)

An Elegant Young Man, Luke Carman (Giramondo Publishing)

Only the Animals, Ceridwen Dovey (Penguin Australia)

Holiday in Cambodia, Laura Jean McKay (Black Inc. Books)

Letter to George Clooney

Unpublished Indigenous Writer – David Unaipon Award

There is no shortlist for this category; the winner of the award will be announced at the Awards Ceremony on Monday 8 December.

Emerging Queensland Writer – Manuscript Award

3 for a Wedding, Julie Kearney

We Come From Saltwater People, Cathy McLennan

Open Cut, Leanne Nolan

And the People’s Choice Awards …

As a judge of the Griffith University Children’s Book Award, I would like to particularly mention our shortlist

Big Red KangarooRefuge, Jackie French (Harper Collins Publishers)

The Ratcatcher’s Daughter, Pamela Rushby (Harper Collins Publishers)

Nature Storybooks: The Big Red Kangaroo, Claire Saxby and Graham Byrne (Walker Books Australia)

Rules of Summer, Shaun Tan (Hachette Australia)

Smooch and Rose, Samantha Wheeler (UQP)

As it turned out, our top books are a combination of novels and illustrated works; from Qld, national, established and emerging creators; and include a non-fiction book, The Big Red Kangaroo, which is also a work of art.

The YA judges have also produced an excellent list

Griffith University Young Adult Book Award

Zac & Mia, A.J Betts (Text Publishing)

The Incredible Here and Now, Felicity Castagna (Giramondo Publishing)

The Accident, Kate Hendrick (Text Publishing)

Tigerfish, David Metzenthen (Penguin Australia)

The Cracks in the Kingdom, Jaclyn Moriarty (Pan Macmillan Australia)

The 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards shortlists in full are at http://arts.gov.au/shortlists

And I’ve previously written more about the PM awards at http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/more-about-the-2014-prime-ministers-literary-awards/2014/10

Staff from the State Library of Queensland (also the venue hub of the BWF)  have taken over the administration of the QLA awards for the first time this year and have done a brilliant job. The awards had been coordinated by an extraordinary committee of volunteers for the past few years since the Qld Premier’s Literary Awards were axed by Campbell Newman’s government. The SLQ has also sponsored the poetry award and some Qld Universities such as the University of Queensland, Griffith University and the University of Southern Queensland, have also stepped in to sponsor awards. Enormous thanks to them all.

Congratulations to all of the shortlisted authors and to the winners of both these awards. We will know the outcome soon!

Incredible Here and Now

Christmas for Literature Lovers

AmnesiaThere are so many great books published each year. Here are my favourite 2014 literary novels. They’re the best I’ve read, with the exception of The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber – which I’ll write about soon. You will have other selections (and we’d love to hear them) but these are my Christmas picks.

(I’ve mentioned some picture books and novels for children in previous posts

http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/christmas-collectibles/2014/11;

http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/gothic-tales-for-christmas/2014/11)

Peter Carey is in scintillating form with Amnesia (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin). Amnesia breaks into brilliant new directions, ingenious and daring like Carey’s exceptional, My Life as a FakeJournalist Felix Moore is writing a book about Gaby Baillieux, who graduated from hacking to cyber-activism and possible terrorism against America. Carey takes us between Melbourne, Sydney, the Hawkesbury River and the 1942 Battle of Brisbane – where Australians fought the Americans in the streets.  His knowledge and insight penetrates and interprets recent Australian history around the White Australia Policy, Pine Gap, politicians Jim Cairns and Gough Whitlam and The Dismissal, as well as America’s ‘murder’ of Australian democracy. Carey crafts this into a fascinating work and even throws in asides about steampunk and artist Sidney Nolan.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (Sceptre) is structured in the adventurous style that Mitchell used in Cloud Atlas, a roam Bone Clocksthrough a wide period of time, including into the future. The fantastical elements are seeded brilliantly throughout the early chapters of The Bone Clocks. The character of Holly Sykes links the parts, although they may not be told in her voice and she is quite a peripheral character in some sections. There are some Australian characters and some parts are set here: Rottnest Light is compared with the reappearing hill in Through the Looking Glass, for example.

One of my favourite sections profiles the fading writer, Crispin Hershey, a famous and respected literary writer, whose world is imploding because his writing quality and output has dropped. He takes revenge on a critic who pans his latest book with dire results. In one scene someone tells him about his plan to set Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North to music. Holly is feted as an author in this part of the book.

I love novels about writers.

Blazing WorldI also love novels about art and The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt (Sceptre) is the best I’ve read this year. Under-recognised artist, New Yorker, Harriet Burden decides to test whether art created by males is valued more highly than art by women so she undertakes an audacious experiment. Over time, she collaborates with three male artists but the resulting works are shown in the males’ names. Recognition seems to be far greater for these works than for her own, even though her artistic stamp is visible. The characterisation, ideas about identity and descriptions of the artworks are phenomenal.

Other ‘types’ of novels that I love are about Japan. David Mitchell wrote a stunner several years ago, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet and I reviewed Mark Henshaw’s  2014 The Snow Kimono (Text) here http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/the-snow-kimono/2014/09

Snow Kimono

I was a little ambivalent about reading The Children Act by Ian McEwan (Jonathan Cape) because the marketing and reviews rightly focused on the plot of High Court judge Fiona Maye’s case about ‘almost-man’ (Adam is almost eighteen) from a Jehovah’s Witness background who refuses a blood transfusion to stabilise his rare leukaemia. This certainly is the hub of the novel and McEwan skilfully brings it to life without sentiment but the novel’s elegant writing and insight into Fiona’s life is the exquisite packaging around this important issue, which makes it a fine literary work. It also revolves around music – the other type of novel I love.

Children Act

What I’m reading this Christmas: Claire Smith, Walker Books

Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Claire Smith. Spark

You’re the marketing assistant at Walker Books, Australia, and you’re going to share your Christmas picks with us. But first let’s find out about you and some books you’ve been working with.

Walker Books  (based in Sydney)  is known for its children’s and YA books. Which do you work on/prefer?

Being in marketing and publicity, I’m lucky enough to get to work on most books that we publish. Children’s publishing is one of those great industries where you really do see a variety of work from a wide variety of people. We often have to stop in meetings and ask “Are we really having this intense discussion about a book on the history of poo?” It really does make for some good stories when people ask what you do. From a reading perspective, I really get into our dystopian YA like Rachael Craw’s Spark, but I also love a beautiful picture book and am a big Jon Klassen fan.

This is not my HatYou’re a marketing assistant – what does a marketing assistant do?

A marketing assistant is really a team all-rounder. I get to liaise with our international offices in London and Boston which allows me a sneak peek at some of the great international titles we sell. I’m also lucky enough to work on our community partnerships and get to donate our books to amazing causes and help to get our authors out to smaller community festivals and charity events. The children’s book industry is so incredible and supportive, it is amazing to be a part of and to keep meeting so many great people in the industry.

How did you get this job?

In 2012 I completed a Masters of Publishing at Sydney Uni. This involved getting to know the business and allowed me to complete an internship as part of my studies. I interned for a few months in the publicity department at Hachette and fell in love with the hustle and bustle of being part of a marketing and publicity team. That experience helped me get the job at Walker, which I am incredibly grateful for. For anyone looking to work in publishing, an internship really is the way to get your foot in the door and find out if this industry is one you can see yourself in.

I suspect you love all the books you promote, but could you tell us about some that you are particularly proud of.

I do love all the books we promote! I am especially proud of Spark by Rachael Craw. It was one we all loved as soon as we got our hands on the manuscript. After some incredible work by our editorial team, it was even more spectacular. And my friend Amy did an amazing cover for it that everyone raves about. We met with Rachael and talked about what we can do for her marketing wise, but also what she can do for herself. She took like a duck to water with social media and has been winning fans left, right and centre. We are all really proud of how well Spark and Rachael have done, and so excited for the next book in the series!

What is different/special about Walker Books? 

Where to start with what is special about Walker?!? It is honestly one of the most inclusive and joyous places to be. The people are hard-working, funny, kind and above all so passionate about what they do and the children’s book industry. It is these wonderful people that really help to make the books what they are – their creativity, their eye for quality and their drive to produce the best children’s books available. We are all grateful for the opportunity to work and learn at Walker, and even if we sometimes feel tired or busy, we will all strive to do the best work we can. It really is an awesome place to work, especially for someone just starting out in the industry – getting to learn from these people every day is so wonderful. And getting to be friends with them? Cherry on top!

What are some awards Walker has won that have particular significance for you?

I recently got to attend the KOALA Awards with Bob Graham who won Honour Book for A Bus Called Heaven. It was so A Bus Called Heavenexciting to attend an awards ceremony in a hall full of kids who had been reading all year and who had voted for their favourite books. That really is why we do what we do – so kids can continue to read quality books. It was also really exciting to get to spend time with Bob Graham – who is an absolute master at what he does and one of the sweetest people you will ever meet.

What do you see as the way forward in the book industry?

I think the book industry – especially the children’s industry – has a bright future ahead. Seeing how hard authors, illustrators and publishers work can only mean good things for the industry in general and great things for readers. The children’s industry is also so well connected that everyone who is a part of it is constantly doing their part to make it vibrant, inclusive and fun to be a part of.

What are some must-reads over Christmas?

Christmas reading for me is always those big tomes that were a little too daunting earlier in the year. Last Christmas I managed to get through The Luminaries before the new year started – it’s great to be able to give all your attention to a book without anything else getting in the way.

The LuminariesWhat is your secret reading pleasure?

At the moment I’ve become a little obsessed with crime fiction. I flew through all three Gillian Flynn novels, including Gone Girl, and am now reading anything I can get my hands on by the wonderful Irish author Tana French. Her prose is fantastic and I love anything with a good twist at the end. I don’t know that much about Ireland, but her novels are great regardless.

Thanks very much for speaking with us, Claire. The Secret Place

 

 

 

What I’m reading this Christmas: Amanda Diaz, HarperCollins Publishers

Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Amanda Diaz.

Thank you for having me!

You’re a publicist at HarperCollins Publishers and you’re going to share your Christmas picks with us. But first let’s find out about you and some books you’ve been working on.

HarperCollins Australia (based in Sydney) is known for its children’s/YA books as well as its adult list. Which do you work on/prefer?

I’m the publicity manager for HarperCollins Children’s Books, which for me is a dream job as I absolutely love kids and YA books.

You’re a publicist – what does a publicist do? AD pic

Basically the job is about creating exposure for books in order to drive awareness and sales. That’s not a very sexy way to put it, but that’s the bare bones. It requires being very calm, patient and organised.

A publicist works to get attention for books through social media, blogs and websites, festivals, signings, conventions and school visits as well as newspapers, magazines, TV and radio. Media exposure can come in a number of forms – from giveaways and extracts to reviews and interviews.

How did you get this job?

While I was interning in the HarperCollins editorial department during my last semester of uni, I was in the right place at the right time to be hired for an admin assistant role in publishing operations. My dream was to work in the children’s team though, so when the publicist role came up, I went for it.

I suspect you love all the books you promote, but could you tell us about some that you are particularly proud of.

I’m very proud to have worked with Children’s Laureate Jackie French on ten books so far. All her work is so excellent, it’s a privilege to be involved in a small way. It’s also been very exciting to work on Veronica Roth’s Divergent series – especially with the recent release of the movie.

Touring with George RR Martin in November last year was also absolutely unforgettable. He is a literary rockstar and so lovely and gracious to boot.

What is different/special about HarperCollins? 

In a business-sense, we have a fantastic mix of commercial and literary stories. There’s truly something for every reader. On a personal level, I’m lucky enough to work with the best team ever at HarperCollins Children’s Books. Everyone is so smart, passionate, hilarious, open and creative. Sometimes we have to pretend not to be having as much fun as we really are, lest others think we’re not actually working.

All the truth that's in meWhat are some awards HarperCollins has won that have particular significance for you?

The Australian Centre for Youth Literature runs the annual Inky Awards – where teen judges and readers decide on their favourite local and international YA titles – and this year, the Silver Inky was won by All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry. This is a book that was very special to everyone in house and to see it receive such fantastic recognition from readers was so wonderful and affirming.

What do you see as the way forward in the book industry?

We have to work smarter in competing for people’s attention spans, but the key to doing this is always going to be finding really excellent stories.

If you’re in a book club, what book have you enjoyed discussing?

I’m not in a book club – I’ve tried it out a couple of times, but I always get too impatient with how long it takes for the other members to finish reading the book! But I do run our YA Twitter account – @HarperCollinsYA and love talking to our followers but the books we’re all reading.

Once Upon an AlphabetWhat are some must-reads over Christmas?

Young kids – and their parents and grandparents – will absolutely fall in love with both Once Upon an Alphabet and Count my Christmas Kisses, while cheeky youngsters will adore There is a Monster Under my Christmas Tree Who Farts.

Withering-by-Sea is a fantastic middle-grade Victorian fantasy adventure that young girls will NEED. (It’s the prettiest book you’ve ever seen.)

(See my post on it here)

My YA summer favourites are A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray and Jessica Shirvington’s Disruption duology. You can’t go past these picks for action-packed reads with a dash of swoonworthy romance.

The ultimate must-read though is Jackie French’s stunning WWII epic To Love a Sunburnt Country (available 1st December). This is the best thing Jackie has ever written. You won’t be able to put it down, you’ll probably cry and you’ll certainly never forget it.

What is your secret reading pleasure?

My secret reading pleasure is definitely re-reading. You’d be embarrassed for me if I revealed how many times I’ve re-read favourite books like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and Pride and Prejudice.Disruption

Thanks very much for speaking with us, Amanda.

It was a pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Withering-by-Sea

 

 

What I’m reading this Christmas: Jane Pearson, Text Publishing

 

 

This House of GriefThanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Jane Pearson. You’re a senior editor at Text and you’re going to share your Christmas picks with us. But first let’s find out about you and some books you’ve been working on.

Text Publishing (based in Melbourne) is known for its adult list, as well as its YA/children’s books. Which do you work on?

I work right across the Text list: on YA and adult fiction and non-fiction. I love having that range. It keeps me on my toes.

You’re a senior editor. What does a senior editor do?Jane Pearson

I work with writers from the initial acquisition (in many but not all cases) right through the editorial process to arranging printing and delivery of the stock. Along the way there’s blurb writing, and working with the designer on the cover and with the publicity and marketing team who will get those copies out into the world. And did I mention reading? There’s lots of reading—I’m always in search of the next great author.

How did you get this job?

I’ve been at Text for seven years. I applied for an advertised position—I must have been lucky, or perhaps it was the shoes!

I suspect you love all the books you work on, but could you tell us about some that you are particularly proud of.Minnow

It’s hard to narrow it down but here goes. There’s the winner of the 2013 Text Prize, Diana Sweeney’s The Minnow, a gorgeous tale of a girl who has lost all her family in a flood and is putting her life back together in a very quirky and magical way. This book will always be among my favourites. And there’s the amazingly huge (it’s the size of a newspaper) A–Z of Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land by Simon Barnard. It took him about twelve years to research and illustrate the most fascinating details of this gruesome part of Tasmania’s history, and it includes stacks of stuff that’s never been published before. The highlight of my year was working with Helen Garner on her latest book This House of Grief. It’s the saddest most harrowing story, and it’s told with such raw honesty and respect. And I just have to squeeze in one more: In the Memorial Room by Janet Frame, which she held back for posthumous publication because of all the people she knew it would offend. It’s brilliant Janet Frame and most deliciously scathing, and when the Frame estate decided it was time for publication, it landed on my desk. How lucky was that!

In the Memorial RoomThe Text Classics have brought exceptional out-of-print Australian and NZ books back into circulation. Do you have anything to do with these? If so, which? If not, which have you enjoyed reading?

I work on the Young Adult classics. It’s been great rereading some of the books I loved as a kid, like Ash Road by Ivan Southall, and discovering wonderful new old authors, like James Aldridge who wrote The True Story of Spit MacPhee. Choosing which books to include is just one stage in the process—there is often some curly detective work in tracking down the rights holder for books long out of print, and the search for an introducer. Chong Weng Ho’s covers for the YA Classics are inspired by illustrations used for the original covers or interiors. The True Story of Spit MacPhee is my favourite at the moment. Ask me next week and it may well be something else: Joan Phipson’s The Watcher in the Garden or Nadia Wheatley’s The House that Was Eureka.

What is different/special about Text?

For me it’s the people I work with. We’re a small company—we work hard, and we laugh and cry (and drink) together. And the view from the office balcony is spectacular.True Story of Spit McPhee

What are some awards Text has won that have particular significance for you?

Alyssa Brugman’s novel Alex as Well won the WA Premier’s YA Book of the Year this year. It’s a confronting transgender story about sexual identity and acceptance, with one of the most stop-you-in-your-tracks opening chapters I’ve ever read. It’s not one for the faint hearted, but it’s real and gutsy and super clever. Alex as Well is Alyssa’s first book with Text and her first book to win an award. So I’m extra proud of that.

What do you see as the way forward in the book industry? My Brilliant Friend

Change is part of life and it’s certainly part of the book industry. But I think there’s a constant that will remain at the heart of the industry whatever twists and turns lie ahead, and that is that good books matter. We’ll always want to read good stories, whether they’re fiction or non-fiction, digital or print, literary works of art or trashy guilty pleasures.

And what are your must-reads over Christmas?

Academy streetMy picks for Christmas reading are Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend. This is the first of four novels about the friendship between two women in 20th Century Naples. I guarantee you won’t be able to stop at one. Mary Costello’s Academy Street—I’ve been recommending this one to everyone since I read it earlier this year. It’s one to read slowly and savour—Mary Costello writes perfect sentences. And Well May We Say… The Speeches that Made Australia, edited by Sally Warhaft. I’ve been dipping in and out of this one since the advance copies arrived in the office and can’t wait to spend a few uninterrupted hours getting lost in it.

Thanks very much for speaking with us, Jane. Well May We Say

 

 

 

 

Rounding up the Reindeers – Frivolous Fun Reads

Okay, so the countdown is on: Chrissy pudding curing away; Christmas turkey ordered; extra chairs stacked ready for those visiting hoards. Santa’s list might even already be on its way to the North Pole but you realise you have a few more stockings to stuff. Here are a bunch of playful festive reads that may be a little low on literary beef but will deck your halls with seasonal joy and verve. They are guaranteed to keep anyone up to six years-old thoroughly amused for at least as long as it takes to roast your Christmas turkey. And the best part? You can sing-a-long to just about every one of them!

One NightExcept this one,…One Night by Penny Matthews and Stephen Michael King is perhaps the least frivolous of the bunch being a heart-warming retelling about the legend of talking animals who magically relive the night Jesus was born every Christmas Eve at midnight. The conversational narrative paired with Stephen Michael King’s divine watercolour illustrations is so dreamlike, you’ll want to wish upon a star and listen out for the animals at midnight too.

Omnibus Books October 2014

Santa's Busy ReindeerForget about ten green bottles – Santa’s Busy Reindeer means red, as in Rudolph’s nose, is the new green. Ed Allen teams up with Sydney illustrator, Nathaniel Eckstrom as ten of Santa’s reindeer scramble madly to get a sleigh load of pressies delivered on time. Trouble is, they are too easily distracted for their own good. A jolly read-aloud counting book that embraces the sillier bits of the silly season.

Scholastic Australia October 2014

Keep an eye on your Christmas tree and everything under it because that bloke’s back and his Christmas appetite is bigger than a five year-old’s wish list to Santa.

There was an Old Bloke who Swallowed a PresentThere was an Old Bloke Who Swallowed a Present is bigger, brighter and even more ludicrous than previous Old Bloke and Old Lady books by P. Crumble and Louis Shea. Brimming with batty brilliance, this is visual gravy for your festive fare. It left me wondering though, how much that Old Bloke looks like someone I know. Possibly one of the best titles I’ve read in this series.

Scholastic Australia October 2014
The Twelve Days of ChristmasTake it down a gear or two with The Twelve Days of Christmas. Alison Jay’s distinctive fine art work gives this well-known song an almost vintage feel. The sumptuous illustrations are visually stimulating yet instil a genteel tranquillity in contrast to the frenetic rising tempo of the song, suggesting that you can have too much of a good thing. Merry makers be warned!

Koala Books October 2014

Amelie and Nanette SnowflakesFor little girls who want a bit more of a bedtime story to fall into dreams with, try Amelie and Nanette: Snowflakes and Fairy Wishes by Sophie Tilley. It’s all things soft and sugary just like the tops of the girls’ fairy cakes and just as sickly sweet in parts but then Christmas is the time to allow a bit of self-indulgence. Shimmering tinsel stars, enduring friendships and fairy wings are de rigueur for these two this Christmas.

Bloomsbury Children’s Books October 2014

Yikes Santa ClawsNeed something for the mini male monster masters in your life then whack Yikes, Santa Claws! by Pamela Butchart and Sam Lloyd on your list. It has dinosaurs, Santa, the word ‘poo’ in it and a nice lilting rhythm. Winner!

Bloomsbury Publishing November 2014

Ella and Olivia Christmas CountdownEJ Hide and PeekLet your slightly older readers snuggle up with these early reader chapter books as you digest the last of the fruit mince pies. Fans and followers of Ella and Olivia will be in raptures with their Christmas instalment of Christmas Wonderland, while EJ 10 recruits can join Emma Jacks as she discovers why Christmas can be full of surprises in Hide and Peek.

Scholastic October 2014

Deck the Shed with Bits of Wattle Glen Singleton’s illustrations just scream Australiana for me, which may explain why I tried to scream this picture book aloud to my family with such unbridled enthusiasm. Perhaps I should have relied more on the bonus CD thoughtfully included. Happy to report my rendition of this popular Chrissy carol did nothing to diminish their enjoyment of Colin Buchanan’s (along with Greg Champion) and Glen Singleton’s Deck the Shed with Bits of Wattle.

Syd Echidna is in the throes of sprucing up his shed for Christmas when a wretched willy-willy ‘undecorates’ all his hard work. Exasperated beyond exhaustion, Syd slips into a deep sleep while a troop of his best mates set to work on a bonza Christmas surprise for him.

Leg thumping, sing-along jocularity that will be getting lots of airplay around these parts this season. Because who doesn’t love a bit of song and dance at Christmas time? Make sure your kids are part of the fun.

Scholastic Australia October 2014

These aren’t even the tip of the iceberg, more a small bump somewhere near the top a North Pole-sized mountain of cool Chrissy reads available this season. Be sure to look around our other posts for more great kids’ titles.

If you’re looking for gifts with less focus on Christmas flavour but equal heart and soul, keep an eye out for my next post: Dim’s Top 25 Cracking Christmas Reads for Kids.

 

 

Gothic Tales for Christmas

Withering-by-SeaThree gothic novels by Australian authors will intrigue primary-school aged (and slightly older) readers who enjoy reading about danger cloaked in mystique and how children can overcome this.

Withering-by-Sea (ABC Books) is written and illustrated by Judith Rossell, whose talent is really taking wings. She has also illustrated picture books, which include Ten Little Circus Mice and Too Tight, Benito and she wrote and illustrated Ruby and Leonard. Withering-by-Sea is the first of the ‘A Stella Montgomery Intrigue’ series – what a fascinating name for a series. Stella lives in the Hotel Majestic at Withering-by-Sea with her formidable aunts. The scene is set for skullduggery when Stella witnesses new guest, Mr Filbert, bury something in the conservatory, the lush garden Stella regards as her Amazon playground. She is thrown into a diabolical situation when she witnesses a burglary and murder.

Another atmospheric gothic tale is Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy by Karen Foxlee (Hot Key Books). Foxlee’s debut was a novel for adults, The Anatomy of Wings. She followed that with The Midnight Dress (one of my 2013 best books for young adults) and now she has triumphed with an original story set in a snowy city’s museum. With a countdown to Christmas Eve, Ophelia’s father is Ophelia and the Marvellous Boypreparing a sword exhibition. The museum where he works is a fantastic maze of exhibits and displays: the exhibition of elephants, the pavilion of wolves, an arcade of mirrors, a room full of telephones, a gallery of teaspoons, a checkerboard floor, paintings of girls in party dresses and, most importantly, The Wintertide Clock. The whole building is like an enormous cabinet of curiosities and this is where Ophelia discovers the Marvellous Boy, whose story intersects with that of the evil Snow Queen. Ophelia must race time and winter to save those she loves from the Snow Queen but she is invested with the power to be the defender of goodness and happiness and hope.

N.J. Gemmell’s sequel to The Kensington Reptilarium for both girls and boys, The Icicle Illuminarium, is also structured loosely around Christmas. The Australian Caddy children, who are living in England, are preparing an extravaganza for the Twelfth Night of Christmas when the story begins. But when their father’s health declines, they set off to find the mother who is presumed dead but may actually be alive. Their quest takes them to the mysterious, moth-eaten Icicle Illuminarium.

See more about this book at http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/meet-n-j-gemmell-author-of-the-icicle-illuminarium/2014/10.

These three stories are well written and imaginative, with elements of the macabre, but they ultimately reward hope, love and goodness over evil in true Christmas spirit.

Icicle Illuminarium

 

Christmas Collectibles

One NightA plethora of picture books about Christmas are published each year. Some are froth and bubble, as unsatisfying as cheap tinsel. Others are excellent, and should be shared with children and families in the lead-up to Christmas Day or join the collections of  avid Christmas book collectors.

Some standouts for 2014 that are already available are One Night by Penny Matthews and Stephen Michael King (Omnibus Books, Scholastic) and The Christmas Rose by Wendy Blaxland and Lucy Hennessy (Walker Books Australia). One Night is an Australian retelling of the birth of Jesus. Stephen Michael King’s illustrations illuminate this miraculous event. The Christmas Rose is a beautiful piece of art and writing which tells the story of a girl who follows the shepherds and the star to the stable to give the Saviour a gift.

Christmas Rose

 

A fun Australiana addition to Christmas this year is Colin Buchanan, Greg Champion and Glenn Singleton’s Deck the Shed with Bits of Wattle (Scholastic). It comes with a bonus CD. Effervescent musician and writer, Buchanan, is accumulating a significant body of work for children. Seek him out.

Some older titles for Christmas book collectors and aficionados that are worth a look if you haven’t already come across them are –

Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle by Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King (who also illustrated One Night), a very Australian story which achieved the distinction of being a CBCA shortlisted book, rare for a ‘seasonal’ book.

The ABC Book of Christmas is distinctive because it features art by Australian illustrators, including Stephen Michael King (the king of Australian Christmas illustration), Ann James, Judith Rossell, Wayne Harris, Greg Rogers and Anna Walker.

Jesus’ Christmas Party by Nicholas Allan, is a very funny account of the birth of Jesus, told from the grumpy innkeeper’s point of view. For those scratching their heads for Christmas play ideas, this book can easily be adapted as a performance or readers’ theatre. The Nativity Play by Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen would also be helpful to read during the festive season. And Mem Fox and Kerry Argent continue the nativity play theme with the Australian contemporary classic, Wombat Divine.

jesus' christmas partyA Christmas Story by eminent UK illustrator, Brian Wildsmith, tells the Christmas story from the point of view of a girl and donkey. Other high-quality picture books told from animals’ perspectives are On This Special Night by Claire Freedman and Simon Mendez; and the original, humorous, The Lion, the Unicorn and Me by esteemed author Jeanette Winterson, illustrated by Rosalind MacCurrach.

British artist, Christian Birmingham has illustrated some sumptuous Christmas books including The Night Before Christmas and A Christmas Carol. P.J. Lynch has also illustrated Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol exquisitely.

A Small Miracle by Peter Collington was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal and is a contemporary Christmas parable.

Newbery medal winner, Kate DiCamillo has crafted a profoundly moving story of a girl who cares for a stranger at Christmas time in Great Joy. It is superbly illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline.

And The Tale of the Three Trees, retold by Angela Elwell Hunt and illustrated by Tim Jonke, beautifully combines the Christmas and Easter stories.

Tale of the Three Trees

Meet N.J. Gemmell, author of The Icicle Illuminarium

Nikki_Gemmell_authorphoto_2013SmThanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Nikki Gemmell,  about The Icicle Illuminarium (Random House Australia) and your other books.

It would be fascinating to look inside your brain. Your stories are bursting with interesting, unusual and unexpected ideas, such as the room of a thousand glow worms and the zipping ladders on rails in the Reptilarium. How do you develop your creativity?

Well, I guess my mind never stops whirring. I’m constantly seeking inspiration from everything around me, and jotting it down in a journal that’s always close to hand. I’ve been keeping my notebooks since I was 14. They’re more like scrapbooks, actually; full of clippings, title ideas, character descriptions, quotes, overheard conversations and various nuggety enchantments. It might be a decade or two before an idea in there is actually mined for a book, but I’m constantly dipping into my seventeen (and counting) journals. The aim with all my writing: to enchant, in some way. I have four kids and they’re a good sounding board as to whether I’ve succeeded or not. They’ll tell me quick smart (quite bluntly, actually, the little buggers)if something doesn’t work.   Icicle Illuminarium

Boys and girls, particularly in mid to upper primary school and junior secondary, will  love The Icicle Illuminarium. What bait have you used to get them (and keep them) reading?

I need a story to gallop along. I live in fear of boring the reader. Kids are the most exacting critics and I find kid’s fiction much harder to write than adult’s. The aim, constantly, is to get your reader to turn the page – and children are much quicker with putting a book down if they’re not interested. I remember the books I loved as a kid – Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, the Silver Brumby series, Little House on the Prairie etc. They’d moved me. Make me cry as well as laugh. I aim to do that with my own books, too. Lure readers by moving them, enchanting them, and keeping them obsessed with the story. I love it when I hear kids have stayed up really late, or finished my book in one or two feverish reading sessions.

There are references to war, which add intrigue as well as depth to the story. When are the books set?

The Kensington Reptilarium and The Icicle Illuminarium are set immediately after World War II, in December 1945 and January 1946. It was a time when the world was finding its feet again; a changed world, a dazed, broken world, working out how to get itself back into normality again.

Kensington Reptilarium

Your two children’s books are set in the UK, as well as in Australia. What are some differences between these places and what sort of children do they breed?

So many differences! Which is what this series is all about. It basically transplants four loud, sparky, resourceful Aussie bush scamps from the outback into the genteel world of upper crust England – where children are meant to be seen and not heard. Imagine four Ginger Meggs types ending up in a Downton Abbey world. What results is a huge culture clash, but I do have to say that I think that the Aussies have the upper hand in it (well, I would say that, wouldn’t I?) The differences of climate, convention and attitude are enormous and a lot of fun to write – there are lots of laughs along the way. A few tears as well.

And, are your books selling equally well in both places?

I sell more kids books in Oz and more adult books in the UK – but weirdly, one of my strongest markets is France.

Your writing is superb, combining fast-paced plot with strong characterisation and well-placed insights and descriptions to create literary merit. How carefully do you craft the writing?

Thank you so much! I work really hard at it. I want my sentences to sing, and craft them carefully. This involves draft after draft after draft; and I welcome a rigorous edit. I love beautiful writing and use poetry as a tuning fork. I don’t think kids should be denied beauty in their writing – as long as the prose is clear and simple to understand.

I do love your weekly column in the Weekend Australian  Magazine. How invested in people do you feel yourself to be?

My weekly column feels so different to my fiction, but once again I aim for beauty in my writing, and to move readers. To complete 700 newspaper words about life, the universe, and everything else week after week, means you have to be passionately invested in people and the world around you, in all its minutiae. I live by Edna St Vincent Millay’s lines: “O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!” I feel that so strongly. There’s so much to be wondrous and grateful about. At this very moment I’m typing under a tree laden with ripe mulberries in the front garden – working under a gloriously nodding, bowing umbrella of green. Tasty, too!  It’ll be in a column on Aussie nostalgia sometime soon, no doubt.

You must be incredibly organised to achieve so much – you’re on the Today program also. Do you have a tip?

Tip: there is no social life. I dream of this one day changing, but am too exhausted by the evenings for anything but a glass of wine and a good lie down. With me, something has to give in that great female triumverate of family/work/social life – and it was the latter in my case. My other tip: when something comes in (like this blog request, for instance) jump onto it immediately and just get it done, or else – sigh – it will never be done (I live in horror of vast piles of to-do stuff cluttering up the place.) You should see the dormant volcano that’s our washing basket of clean clothes in the main bedroom. Just can’t face it – would much prefer to be writing.

Some of our readers will know you for your books for adults. Could you give us a quick run-down on these?Book of Rapture

I seem to write in trilogies. First of all there was the trilogy of coming of age stories about young Aussie women in different landscapes: Shiver (set in Antarctica), Cleave (Central Australian desert) and Lovesong (England’s Cornwall.) Then there was the trilogy exploring female sexuality – The Bride Stripped Bare, With my Body, and I Take You. A one off novel dealing with religion in a post 9/11 world, The Book of Rapture. And a few non fiction books made up of columns and essays: Pleasure, Honestly and Personally. Phew. I feel exhausted just typing all that.

Will we see the characters of The Kensington Reptilarium and The Icicle Illuminarium again soon?

Yes! I’m working on a third book, bringing my four sparky, scampy Caddy kids home to central Australia – all in search of their missing mum. A few of their English friends will be in tow, too, along with Bucket the dog of course. This family will not let me go!

Thanks for you incredibly generous – and speedy – answers, Nikki.

Bride Stripped Bare

 

 

Meet Alice Pung, author of Laurinda

LaurindaThanks for talking to Boomerang Books about your outstanding first novel Laurinda (Black Inc.), Alice Pung.

Thanks for interviewing me!

You are well known for your excellent non-fiction, Unpolished Gem, Her Father’s Daughter and as editor of Growing Up Asian in Australia. Why have you sidestepped into YA fiction?

Growing up, I went to five different high schools, and I have always been fascinated by the way institutions shape individuals. In each new high school I felt like I was a slightly different person – not because anything about me had immediately changed – but because people’s perceptions of me had.

High school is the only time in your life where a large part of your identity is actually shaped by other people. As an adult you can choose your friends, and your time is finite, so of course, you try to only spend time with people who like and affirm you. As a teenager, though, you are forced to fit yourself in amongst 200-1000 other people, who are all with you every day. So I’ve always been interested in how teenagers adapt to this. And I wanted to do this through fiction because I wanted to create a character inspired by a number of young adults I’d met and admired.

You are also known for the Asian content and stories in your books. How does this manifest in LaurindaUnpolished Gem

Laurinda, first and foremost, takes a satirical look at class. Lucy Lam, my main character, is from depressed socio-economic circumstances, and I did not want her race to be the main focus. Where many young adult books fall flat, I think, is when they focus on the ethnicity or race as the most important part of their character. The reality is, most teenagers don’t spend time thinking about their cultural background. You don’t wake up every morning aware that you’re Asian, until someone draws your attention to it.

And that’s the paradox with a school like Laurinda – where everyone is so liberal and politically correct and culturally sensitive – the most interesting thing other girls focus on about Lucy is her Asian-ness. The other girls do not realise that she is a teenager in the exact same way they are: Lucy does not know the history of colonial Indochina, is not an authority on oriental food, and is more interested in boys than Vietnam war films.

Did you attend a school like Laurinda? If not, how did you imagine and craft this setting with such verisimilitude?

I get asked this a lot! No, I didn’t attend any school that was as rotten as Laurinda (thankfully!), but I have, like most other students, had teachers who were bullies, been in classes where we bullied the teachers, and seen the whole mean girl dynamic five times over in each new high school at which I started.

I’ve always been a watcher. No one suspects the quiet Asian kid of harbouring very much ambition except ‘doing well at school’, so as a teenager I’ve been privy to a lot of fly-on-the-wall conversations. Sometimes, I even heard some of the most outrageously racist things from other students, and other times I got insight into the struggles of girls I never thought would have struggles.

Also, as an author I have visited hundreds of schools throughout Australia, each with their own culture and traditions. I’ve seen how certain schools promote feminism while others promote a warped sense of femininity that denies competition while pushing success at all costs. I’ve also been to a private school so understand a little about the aspirations of those students, and did not want to tar all the students with the same brush. It seems that all the news and opinion pieces about private schools in the media are rife with so much hyperbole and polarised views. So I hoped that Laurinda would allow people to take a light-hearted and yet simultaneously very serious, nuanced look at why they feel this way.

Growing up AsianThe protagonist, Lucy, is an exceptionally well-created, three-dimensional character. She should become a role model.

Wow. Thank you!

In spite of the vast amount of YA lit I read, I’m excited to have been exposed to new ideas via Lucy, such as needing a group of friends to get a boyfriend at fifteen, and recognising students who are ‘self-contained satellites’.

Could you describe Lucy, or something about her?

When I wrote the character of Lucy, I was very aware of her voice first and foremost, very certain that the reader would be hearing her thoughts and not her words. She’s what school psychologists would now call a classic introvert, but the fascinating thing is that she was not an introvert at her previous school. It is only coming to Laurinda that she loses her speaking voice.

Many young adult books stress the importance of belonging to a group, yet Lucy is content to be by herself at school after she recognises that the institution is rotten. When evil exists, we are taught to do something about it – Lucy’s non-participation in the institution is a form of resistance, and I think it’s pretty stoic. You have to have a strong sense of self to choose to be ‘a loner.’

The ‘Cabinet’, a controlling group of girls, is a masterful, chilling portrayal of teen power. How did you devise their dynamics and role in the school?

I wanted to create characters that were so entitled that they didn’t even realise how entitled they were. There’s the old cliché of the silver spoon, but I didn’t want these characters’ entitlement to be based on wealth – I wanted it to be based on cultural capital: the handed-down power that exists in our society. Their alumni mothers trained them to appreciate Royal Doulton and institutional loyalty, their fathers are powerful men and their school Laurinda trains them to be ‘Leaders of tomorrow.’

So of course they’re going to want to ‘lead’ the school. They feel it’s their birthright. And also, being such perfectionists, they feel a duty to weed out the weaker elements of the school: vulnerable teachers, students they feel are not up to scratch. I did not want the Cabinet to be vacuous ‘mean girls’, but the sort of pressure-cooker girls you would meet at a private school who must be on top of things all the time; and yet whose worlds are so tightly-wound that any threat to their order would ignite them. And I hope readers come away with an understanding that those girls are as much victims of institutional and familial insularity as they are cruel.

You mention a number of literary texts, such as Emma, Romeo and Juliet, The Great GatsbyWhy did you include these? Emma

Those were books I studied as a teenager when I went to a private grammar school. Gatsby is a book about class and a man who will never quite belong because of his pink suit. And when Jane Austen began to write Emma, I think she resolved: “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like” because Emma, like the Cabinet, is selfish and entitled. But actually, she is my favourite Austen character because there is a gravitas and kindness to her at the end when she comes of age.

Lucy is informed by the principal that YA literature is not studied at Laurinda. Do you have a personal opinion about this provocative stance?

I studied John Marsden and Isobelle Carmody books at my Catholic College, and a novel about a Cambodian refugee called ‘The Clay Marble’ in Year 7 at a public school. It seems to me that the more ‘elite’ the school is, the more their texts seem removed from the realities of existence as a teenager.

I cannot fathom how you could teach teenagers and yet remove their experience from the whole equation. YA books taught me how to become an adult, how to deal stoically with adversity, how to negotiate with adults around me, how to cope with mental illness: they were the most important books I have ever read in my life.

I love literary classics as much as any author, yet some schools teach the heavy themes in King Lear or the humour in Austen so rigidly, with students churning out essays full of fancy vocabulary and effluent literary tricks. They teach students to be contemptuous of YA literature, and in doing so, make them into miniature, insufferable snobby adults who have to deny their constant true state of existence, which is that they are teenagers!

And you cannot teach teenagers without acknowledging that for six years of their lives, they are inevitably, inextricably in this state of young-adult-hood, with questions about how to live well each day, and how to cope, and how to look forward to things.

What do you hope to achieve with this story? Alice Pung

It’s funny, but I never got asked this question with my non-fiction books, even the book about my father and the Cambodian holocaust! I just hope lots of young adults will read it and be able to relate in some way.

I’ve always been against didactic messages in YA books. If students are studying Kafka in Year 11, then of course they can make up their own opinions!

(I guess that might be one reason some schools put YA off their booklists – some authors feel the patronising need to include ‘a positive message’ and that kills the story.)

Laurinda is an exceptional novel that will be very well received.

Thanks very much for sharing your thoughts with us, Alice.

THANK YOU for these excellent and insightful questions, I’ve really enjoyed thinking about them and answering them. Her Father's Daughter

 

More about the 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards

PureheartIt is commendable that recent Prime Ministers have continued the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards even though, as with some other literary prizes, its future has often seemed under threat. It is a prestigious national award amongst the also-important state and other literary prizes. And it is lucrative, with winners receiving $80 000 and shortlisted authors $5 000 – the latter amount equal to winners’ prize money in some other awards.

The complete shortlist is listed here: http://www.pm.gov.au/media/2014-10-19/2014-prime-ministers-literary-awards-shortlists-0

I’d like to make some additional comments on some categories and specific titles.

It is excellent to see that poetry has its own category here, as in other awards. There is a thriving Australian poetry community and publishing output that readers might not be aware of. As a starting point, explore the Thomas Shapcott Prize, an annual award for emerging Qld poets, which reminds us of the exquisite poetry and prose of venerable Shapcott himself.

The fiction category includes the delightful Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest (Penguin: Hamish Hamilton), which may have been shortlisted for as many recent awards as Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Vintage). Australian writers and readers are still celebrating his well-deserved Man Booker Prize win, almost as though we won it ourselves. Moving Among Strangers

Gabrielle Carey’s Moving Among Strangers (UQP) about Randolph Stow and her family appears in the non-fiction category. I chaired a session with Gabrielle at the BWF several years ago and was interested then to hear about her research on this important Australian poet and novelist.

Merry Go Round in the Sea

Shortlisted in the history category, Clare Wright has been scooping awards for The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka (Text Publishing). She is also a knowledgeable and entertaining conversationalist.

The Young Adult fiction shortlist deservedly emulates some other YA awards, affirming Melissa Keil’s debut, Life in Outer Space (Hardie Grant Egmont), The First Third by Will Kostakis (Penguin) and The Incredible Here and Now by Felicity Castagna (Giramondo). It is great to see Simmone Howell’s edgy Girl Defective (Pan Macmillan) and Cassandra Golds’ groundbreaking Pureheart (Penguin) included. But where is Fiona Wood’s Wildlife (Pan Macmillan), which won this year’s CBCA award for Older Readers?

I have blogged about some of these books here: http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/what-will-win-ya-book-of-the-year/2014/07

Most State Awards have a children’s category, although it is inexplicably missing in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. Children’s books are the foundation of our publishing industry – and keep it afloat. If our children are not encouraged to read, who will buy and read books in the future? How literate will Australia be? Most of the PM children’s shortlist has been appearing on shortlists across the country this year, reinforcing the quality of these books. Barry Jonsberg’s My Life as an Alphabet (Allen & Unwin) has been straddling both the children’s and YA categories. This, as well as Kissed by the Moon by Alison Lester (Puffin) and Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan (Hachette) have already won notable awards. It is great to see Julie Hunt’s original fantasy, Song for a Scarlet Runner (Allen & Unwin) appearing on yet another shortlist and Bob Graham, Australia’s world-class author-illustrator, has done it again with his latest picture book, Silver Buttons (Walker Books).Song for a Scarlet Runner

The Strays by Emily Bitto

The StraysWho are the strays in Emily Bitto’s literary novel, The Strays (Affirm Press)?

The new Melbourne Modern Art Group tries to set up a bohemian utopia paralleling Sunday and John Reed’s Heide group, or Norman Lindsay’s enclave, on affluent Evan and Helena Trentham’s property during the Depression. Patrick is a stalwart and Ugo, Maria and Jerome are artists who seem to relish the opportunity to receive the patronage, protection and stimulation of famous Evan.

It may be the three Trentham daughters who are most affected by these living arrangements, although the temporary residents take some of the burden off the eldest daughter, Bea, in raising the younger girls. Painter, Evan, and miniaturist, Helena, are neglectfully preoccupied.

A fourth girl, Lily, meets middle daughter, Eva, when she moves to the local primary school. Lily is an only child and revels in the verdant exotica of Eva’s family, home and garden and, especially, of the art. Her own family seems dull and conventional beside the excesses of the Trentham lifestyle and Lily becomes a surrogate daughter, perhaps displacing youngest girl, Heloise. Lily’s relationship with Eva is close, in that first chaste trial marriage between girls. They are bound by bonds of imagination and, in Lily’s case, of some envy. As an observer of this sought-after life, Lily possibly becomes benignly manipulative.Shelley

Artist prodigy, Jerome, loves the work of poet Percy Shelley, husband of Frankenstein author, Mary Shelley, and is creating a series of art inspired by Shelley’s work. Like Jerome’s artist community, the Shelleys were part of an intimate circle that included Lord Byron, and Bitto casts allusive ties between these two groups. Jerome shares the poems with Lily but it is Eva who agrees to pose topless for him.Frankenstein

Descriptions of the garden and, particularly, the art are provocative. It is not surprising that politician Robert Menzies and the established arts community of the day viewed these avant-garde artists with suspicion. They were the antithesis of the adored late nineteenth century Heidelberg School of Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin and Arthur Streeton.

Lily relates her story as a girl growing into a teenager but the narrative is encircled by an account of her life as an older woman. Her reluctance to accept an ordinary life remains.

The Strays was shortlisted for the Victorian Premiers Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript and is recommended for fans of Siri Hustvedt’s exceptional The Blazing World (Septre) and Alex Miller’s, Autumn Laing (Allen & Unwin).Blazing World

 

 

Meet Deadly D and Justice Jones

deadlyd_risingstar_cover_coloThanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Deadly D/Dylan and Justice about your Deadly D and Justice Jones books (Magabala Books).

Kids who like rugby league and sport are going to love these books.

Questions for Dylan/Deadly D and Justice –

What are your favourite football teams and players?

Dylan: Growing up in Mount Isa and being a North Queensland boy, Cowboys are my favourite team with Broncos a close second.

Justice: I  loved the Warriors before I met Dylan. Now I love the Broncos too because Deadly D plays for them!

Tell us about yourselves.

Dylan: Well brah, I grew up in Mount Isa and loved watching and playing rugby league and spending time with my cousins. I’ve got a hidden talent – when I get angry I turn into Deadly D, but apparently it’s a secret so don’t tell anyone.

Justice: I was born in Wellington, New Zealand and now I live in Brisbane. I sit next to Dylan in Mr Barwick’s class. The chicks dig my hair cuz. I spend too much money on hair product though. Nah, just jokes man!

Who are your friends and enemies at school?Deadly D #1

Dylan: My main man is Justice Jones, he’s got my back. We’re like brothers from a different mother. We’re not overly friendly with Jared Knutz and his crew. They try their best to get under our skin.

Justice: What he said.

Is Deadly D really better looking than Scott Prince?

Justice: Princey always looks sharp on the telly with his fresh haircuts, but Deadly D has the big muscles and looks that could stop the traffic in downtown Brisbane bro! All his followers on Twitter compare him to Brad Pitt.

Is Sam Thaiday really afraid of heights?

Dylan: Yes he is, ever since the day he slept in his tree house as a kid and sleepwalked out the door he’s been afraid of heights and falling. Not many people know about that, but he has a scar on his forehead to prove it. Look closely and you’ll see it.

How do we find out more about you – is another book on the way?

Justice: Our latest book is Deadly D and Justice Jones – Rising Star, but I think those funny fellas Scott and Dave are working on the third book. I hope they are because I’m getting heaps of fan mail.

Scott PrinceQuestions for authors, Scott and Dave –

How do you work out who is writing what?

Dave: Scott and I talk about the events that will happen in the story and we map it out. I’ll write the skeleton of a few chapters and then meet with Scott to flesh them out a bit more.

How do you make the stories funny?

Scott: Well if you spend half a day with Dave and I, you’d understand our humour and we both look at the bright side of life.

How do you keep the writing so tight?

Dave: We always have a lot to fit into our stories and we like to keep the momentum strong, so our writing is always action-packed. We like to keep the reader guessing.

Who is better at drawing – Scott or Dave?

Scott: In terms of drawing and expressing our ideas that we come up with, Dave is talented enough to portray our vision on to paper. But he still hasn’t given me a chance to express my drawing capabilities. I don’t know where he hides the pencils.

Why have you written these books?

Scott: We’re passionate about getting reluctant readers to pick up a book. We understand from our own experiences growing up as sport lovers  that rugby league is a very powerful tool to engage children to read. It’s also an opportunity for me to express some life experiences by keeping it real but by also using our imagination, as you’ll see in Rising Star.

What feedback are kids giving you?

Scott: Through the editing process, we’ve found that our own kids have been very honest in their opinions! We’ve had to wipe some tears of laughter and disappointment, but they’ve played a key role in shaping stories.

Dave: Some of our readers tell us that they’ve read our books ten times in a row, which is amazing. They also give us ideas about what to write for each character in upcoming stories. So if you’re reading this, please find Deadly D Books on Facebook and share your feedback with us – we’d love to hear it!

Thanks very much, Deadly D, Justice (Scott Prince and Dave Hartley).

 

Meet Elizabeth Fensham, author of My Dog Doesn’t Like Me

Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Elizabeth Fensham.

My Dog Doesn't Like Me My Dog Doesn’t Like Me (University of Qld Press) resonated with me because I also have a puppy, Floyd (whose middle name is Pink)– a spoodle who is easier to train than Eric’s dog, Ugly, but I have used one of the dog-training tips described in the novel.

 Tell us about your dogs.

My family had a string of black and tan mongrels. They were faithful, reliable dogs. We later had a Gordon Setter – and I did most of the training. I was a young teenager and loved the process of training and the reward of having such a responsive and easy to live with pet. Much later my son saw some black and tan pups at our local craft market. The Border Collie/Belgian Shepherd pup grew huge. He was very easy to train and, again, that makes a dog so pleasant to live with.

 This is not a typical dog story. It sounds like real life, with Eric having to work hard to keep Ugly. Why do you write contemporary realism for younger readers?

Several aspects of the story are from real life. A young boy once told me his dog didn’t like him – in exactly those words. I instinctively thought that this boy was probably not doing very much for his dog. Children need a lot of reminding to take responsibility for their pets. However, Eric’s tribulations are fictitious; I just used my memories of doggy dramas.

I don’t consciously decide on a particular genre when writing. Ideas just spring to mind. I write about the problems that I’m aware of in a child’s life – from my own experiences and those of children I know – and then I enjoy working towards realistic solutions – and this involves character growth, too.

 How do you incorporate humour?

Humour is important to me. I see it as necessary to living life as joyfully as possible, to getting things in perspective and, thus, to coping with tougher times. I enjoy the company of children because their honest and original insights on life are often both true and amusing. Humour in a story gives necessary relief to serious moments. I suppose a writer’s personality comes through in their style. I enjoy laughing, telling funny stories and making others laugh or smile. I’m embarrassing to go to the pictures with to see a comedy because apparently I laugh very loudly – and a lot. This is a balance to a part of me that feels the sadness of life deeply – which I suppose describes most people.Matty Forever

 Your writing is a perfectly calibrated mix of story telling, character building and great writing style – writing that gets your books onto literary award lists. How carefully do you create this blend?

I consciously try to craft stories with a recurring pattern of tension followed by some sort of relief. A character goes through this and learns along the way. The style is dictated by the spirit of the story, my intended audience, as well as the personality and age of the protagonist.

 The novel jumps straight into the action. How deliberate was this?

I have to give my editor the credit for beginning with the running away episode of the story. In my first draft, this came later in the chapter. I have enormous respect for editors; I appreciate that period where one works alongside someone else to improve a story.

Eric was looking forward to turning 8 and describes 8 as looking like a racetrack. What is your favourite number?

Favourite numbers! I’ve liked the number 3 since childhood. It seemed balanced to me. I also like the number 7 as I’ve heard it has significance in the ancient traditions of the Old Testament. Those numbers pop up in fairy-tales, too.

 What have you won awards for?

Invisible HeroI’ve had eight novels published. ‘Helicopter Man‘ won the CBCA award for Younger Readers. ‘The Invisible Hero’ (which deals with bullying and finding peaceful resolutions to conflicts) won the Speech Pathologists of Australia Award. The same book was listed as an Ibby Book; when I knew what it stood for I was thrilled – it’s a Swedish collection of international books that contributes to discussion of peace. ‘Goodbye Jamie Boyd‘ (a young adult novella that deals with mental illness) was listed for the Bologna White Raven – another international collection. ‘Miss McAllister’s Ghost‘ was awarded with a CBCA Notable Book. ‘Matty Forever’ was short-listed by the CBCA and its sequel, ‘Bill Rules’, was short-listed for the Queensland Premier’s Award. And one of the Matty books was short-listed for the Psychologists for Peace award. Goodness, looking at this I feel so encouraged  – for someone who was first published quite late in life.Bill Rules

 Thanks very much, Elizabeth.

 

 

 

The Snow Kimono

Snow KimonoA buzz has been building about Australian author Mark Henshaw’s long awaited second novel after Out of the Line of Fire. The Snow Kimono (Text) is a literary psychological thriller set in Japan and France. Insights into both those countries shape the contours, ridges and atmosphere of the novel. Paris is wet and snowy and its streets and iconic buildings are lit with fireworks and the elements. Japan is elusive and mystical, with bamboo, bridges over water and the sounds of frogs, the slow tock, tock, tock of the water clock, the strings of a shamisen in a night garden. It is also a place of snow, birthing the snow kimono.

A retired French police inspector, Auguste Jovert, receives a letter, has an accident and meets Tadashi Omura, a former lawyer from Japan. Omura begins the story of Fumika, the girl he pretended was his daughter and, over the course of the novel, relates the story of his inconceivable life. Japan, and some of its secrets, is vividly revealed to us through a Parisian prism.

Jigsaw puzzles are a tantalising symbol. Omura’s father loved the ancient tradition of jigsaws where each piece is unique and designed to deceive – to make the puzzle more difficult. He owned rare, antique puzzles made from exotic wood with inlays of precious materials. The best had infinite or contradictory solutions. Omura explains, In our tradition, how a puzzle is made, and how it is solved, reveals some greater truth about the world… Puzzles are objects of contemplation.

The lie behind Omura’s life unfolds like the exquisite mirror-scope that he constructs for Fumika to see the flying kites. We learn of his brilliant, devious friend, Katsuo who is about to be released from prison and whose past life shadowed Omura’s own. Katsuo is an author who mimicked his friends’ and acquaintances’ mannerisms, almost imprinting them onto himself, as well as conjoining them into his writing. He demanded stories be told to him again and again, craved power over people and displayed controlled patience.

The kimono is an alluring motif. The snow kimono was made by Sachiko’s grandmother and becomes hers when she moves to inscrutable Mr Ishiguro’s house. She is one of a number of characters who feature in the story. The clever narrative is structured into parts, showcasing major characters such as Jovert, Omura and Katsuo, as well as the females whose lives intertwine with theirs – Sachiko, Fumika, Natsumi, Mariko and Martine.

I would highly recommend The Snow Kimono to readers of Haruki Murakami’s style of literary fiction. It is likely to appear Colorless Tsukuru Tazakion upcoming Australian award shortlists.

Brisbane Writers Festival Dazzles

Analogue MenThe  2014 Brisbane Writers Festival had an inspiring launch on Thursday night when author/publisher Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, What is the What – about the lost boys of Sudan) told a full tent  about the genesis of McSweeney’s publishing company and its 826 Valencia Writing Centres. The tutoring behind these pirate, superhero and other themed storefronts has helped countless children with their writing. Groups doing similar work in Australia are Sydney’s Story Factory with its Martian Embassy, Melbourne’s 100 Story Building, and Book Links in Queensland is working towards its own centre.

My next session was ‘Dangerous Allies’ where Robert Manne interviewed Malcolm Fraser in front of a capacity crowd. The insights about Australia’s alliance with the US were provocative and chilling.

‘Zen and the Art of Tea’ was a light-hearted exploration of tea by Morris Gleitzman and Josephine Moon. Josephine’s tip about brewing lavender, garlic or basil to make teas sounds worth trying and Morris – a literary Geoffrey Rush – was hilarious. He personified coffee as a bully, and tea as a whispering lover.

David Hunt was in fine form discussing his Indies Book winner, Girt which is a retelling of Australian history with a comedic eye.

It was fun to cross paths with David Malouf (for the second time in two weeks), Jennifer Byrne, Will Kostakis, Pamela Rushby and Tristan Bancks. If only there was more time for more sessions … I would have loved to see YA writers such as A.J. Betts, Isobelle Carmody and Jackie French but they were either offsite or clashed with my events. Andy Griffiths was so popular he had his own signing area after the other children’s writers’ part of the program had finished. Chairing Andy and John Boyne (Boy in the Striped Pyjamas) a few years ago was one of the funniest times of my life.

Forgotten Rebels of EurekaThis year I was privileged to moderate sessions with Clare Wright on The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka (Text) and Nick Earls on Analogue Men (Vintage). Clare must be the world’s most informed person in her field of women at Eureka. Her book deservedly won the Stella Prize this year. It is compulsive, engaging reading, notwithstanding its 500+ pages.

Nick was as funny as expected and revealed a secret about Analogue Men. We learned that his favourite Dr Who is Jon Pertwee and his favourite tech device Bluetooth. I explained how I laughed out loud repeatedly over one scene that I read on instant replay and Nick implied that my brain is like that of a goldfish. But no – it really was the skilful writing. It was wonderful to hear the laughing throughout this session and see the animated audiences in both these events.

Many thanks to the authors involved in the Festival, particularly Clare and Nick, and to the incredible BWF staff and volunteers led by Kate Eltham.

Meet Jared Thomas, author of Calypso Summer

Jared Thomas, thanks for talking to Boomerang Books. 

Calypso SummerCalypso Summer (Magabala Books) gave me a break-through insight into a young Aboriginal man. Calypso is a brilliant character. He tries so hard to make his life, and the lives of those around him, work, but it’s tough. Could you tell us about him and his cousin, Run?

Calypso and Run are young Aboriginal men trying to exist in a difficult world. Their interaction with each other, family members and others is framed by a history of dispossession, racism and discrimination that has contributed to some of the lowest levels of education, highest levels of unemployment, and poorest health conditions amongst any Australian people.

Having money and getting work plays heavily on both Calypso and Run. However, while Run is defeated and takes drugs and does petty crime to survive, Calypso attempts to change his life in order to obtain personal goals.

What is the importance of family, tradition and country to someone like Calypso?

Calypso’s love for family and his understanding of tradition and country provide him with a greater sense of purpose, a strength that enables him to cope better with challenges. It helps him to put things into perspective.

What is your background and why have you written Calypso Summer?

My father’s family is Nukunu and Ngadjuri from the Southern Flinders Ranges and Scottish, and my Mum’s Aboriginal family is from Winton, Queensland and her European family are Irish.

I wrote Calypso Summer because I want to raise awareness of how racism has and continues to impact on the lives of Aboriginal people and to show the positives that can occur if the right types of opportunities are available.Deadly Unna?

Cricket is the backdrop to your novel but I watched the movie Australian Rules, based on the novels Deadly, Unna? and Nukkin Ya by Phillip Gwynne not long before reading Calypso Summer. You do mention the game of Australian Rules briefly in your novel.

If you’ve seen the movie or read these novels, would you recommend them?

Phillip Gwynne’s Deadly Unna is a useful text in communicating the futility of racism, also providing important explorations of sexism and domestic violence.

Media relating to the release of Australian Rules, the film adaptation of Deadly Unna reveals much controversy as the story is based on the murder of two young Aboriginal men and consent wasn’t requested from the relatives of these men when writing the story.

The controversy prompted Screen Australia, then the Australian Film Commission, to employ Terri Janke to write a position paper for working with Indigenous content and communities. This formed the basis of Screen Australia’s Pathways & Protocols, a filmmaker’s guide to working with Indigenous people.

I’d recommend Deadly Unna and Australian Rules to be read and viewed by students in association with an introduction to protocols for representing Aboriginal people in various media.

If Phillip Gwynne had consulted with Aboriginal people in the writing of Deadly Unna and Australian Rules, they would be much more celebrated works.

Are there other relevant books you would prefer to recommend?

Killing DarcyI would prefer to recommend Melissa Lucashenko’s young adult works such as Steam Pigs, Killing Darcy and Hard Yards.

Who have you written Calypso Summer for – young adults, adults or both?

I have written Calypso Summer for young adults but know that it also appeals to adults.

What do you hope for young men and women like Calypso?

I hope that young men and women like Calypso come to the realisation that in a society where Aboriginal people make up an outrageous proportion of the prison population, that being educated, healthy and employed, preferably within or contributing to our own communities is the most rebellious act that one can do.

What else have you written?

My young adult novel ‘Sweet Guy’ is published by IAD Press and my children’s novella ‘Dallas Davis the Scientist and the City Kids,’ is published by Oxford University Press. ‘Songs that Sound like Blood,’ will be released by Magabala Books in mid 2015.

I’ve also published academic articles, articles, short stories and poetry in various anthologies.

My first major work was a play called ‘Flash Red Ford,’ which was produced in Kenya and Uganda in 1999.

Thanks very much, Jared.

You can also listen to Jared’s interview with Daniel Browning at

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/awaye/2014-05-24/5473904

 

 

 

 

 

Children’s Book of the Year

Rules of SummerIt is the time to celebrate the CBCA Books of the Year: a plethora of excellent books. No one will be be surprised that Shaun Tan’s inimitable Rules of Summer has won Picture Book of the Year. From a visual literacy perspective, it excels in composition – what is put where and how distance and depth is created; salience – what is most prominent on the page; juxtaposition – contrasting elements such as light and dark and texture; and symbolism. Congratulations to Bob Graham and Nick Bland for their Honour awards in this category. Graham’s Silver Buttons was always a contender with its consummate celebration of the ‘everyday’ and Bland’s award for King Pig, a fable about selfishness, power and redemption, also reflects his enormous popularity. Such a shame that Margaret Wild and Freya Blackwood’s peerless The Treasure Box wasn’t recognised, and Danny Parker and Matt Ottley’s brilliant Parachute may have fared better in Early Childhood.

The SwapThe judges got the awards in the Early Childhood category absolutely right. The Swap by Jan Ormerod and Andrew Joyner uses subtle humour and retro illustrations to look at sibling jealousy and love. I’m a Dirty Dinosaur is a rhythmic swamp romp by Janeen Brian, illustrated with pencils and mud by Ann James. Banjo and Ruby Red is a tale of farmyard friendship by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood.

Book of the Year: Younger Readers is an unusual shortlist, particularly because only five of six possible books were shortlisted so a fine book for this important primary age-group was omitted. Catherine Jinks, a well-regarded writer, won the category with her Victorian gothic, A Very Unusual Pursuit. No surprises that the award-scooping My Life as an Alphabet by Barry Jonsberg is an Honour book but less expected is Dianne Wolfer and Brian Simmonds’ Light Horse Boy, which many would have shortlisted in the factual Eve Pownall category. It is disappointing not to see Julie Hunt’s Song for a Scarlet Runner receive an Honour but it has been acclaimed in other awards.

I'm a Dirty DinosaurSome of my personal favourites missed out in the Eve Pownall Award for Information Books, particularly the well designed, Meet … Captain Cook by Rae Murdie and Chris Nixon but due regard to winners Christopher Faille and Danny Snell for Jeremy, which explains the life of a kookaburra at a perfect level for very young readers and Honour recipients Peter Gouldthorpe for Ice, Wind, Rock, which tells the important story of Mawson, and the commendable Welcome to My Country by Laklak Burrarrwanga and family, which has also been acknowledged in an outstanding new YA novel, Nona and Me by Clare Atkins.

ParachuteWildlife by Fiona Wood is a completely deserving winner of the Older Readers category and Fairytales for Wilde Girls by Allyse Near and The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn are meritorious Honour awardees.

(See my previous posts on Older Readers and Eve Pownall)

 

 

 

Vanguard of Debut Children’s Authors

Tiger StoneA surge of debut novels by talented Australians for children and young adults may be on the way. Deryn Mansell’s Tiger Stone  (Black Dog Books), an original, intricate mystery set in fourteenth century Java for upper primary and junior secondary readers and Caro Was Here by Elizabeth Farrelly (Walker Books) are some forerunners.

Caro Was Here is also aimed at upper primary school children. Rather than a historical mystery, it is a cool, contemporary mystery adventure. It’s an addictive, pacey read and is today’s equivalent of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five but better written and with more depth of characterisation (not to detract from Blyton, whose books I, and practically everyone else, relished as a child).

Caro is a fascinating character – a bit over-confident, a bit opinionated and a rule-breaker. The novel begins just before the Easter break when twelve-year-old Caro inadvertently sticks up for ‘poached-egg glasses’-wearing nerd, Nigel Numbnuts on the bus. She’s not sure that it will help her chances of becoming Year Six Winter Captain but she has to do it. Her election speech is eclipsed by new American girl, Ellen Aurelia Dufresne, who later becomes part of the group who wag the last afternoon of term.

Ned, Caro’s younger half-brother, Nigel and Ellen, as well as one of her best friends, Tattie, follow Caro to Sydney Harbour. After Caro makes them put their phones in a locker at Circular Quay to enhance the adventure of their afternoon, they miss the ferry to Cockatoo Island and have to catch the boat to Goat Island instead. Some of the history of the island interests them but is convict Charles Anderson’s fate a foretaste of what might be lying in wait for them? Goat Island

When they miss the last ferry and have to spend the night on the dark island in the rain, they realise that they’re not alone. The author continues in the vein of contemporary adventure to create a deliberately uber-thrilling situation, while adding backstories and depth to the main characters.

The cover is perhaps the only downfall of the book. I assumed it signalled introspective realism because of the stylised images of a hand and matchstick, but these components do make sense when you read the story.

Overall, Caro Was Here, Tiger Stone, and other current works by debut writers, seem to be the vanguard in an exciting new era for children’s literature. And thanks also to the farsighted publishers who are delivering works by new authors.

 

August – celebrating children’s books

Pig the PugAugust is an important month for Australian children’s books because the CBCA Book of the Year is announced on 15th and National Literacy and Numeracy Week is held from 25-31 August.

The aim of NLNW website, as stated on their website is:

National Literacy and Numeracy Week represents a collaborative approach by the Australian Government and school communities to highlight the importance of literacy and numeracy skills for all children and young people, with a specific focus on school-aged children.

The Week gives schools the opportunity to be involved in a range of literacy and numeracy activities. The Week aims to recognise locally the achievements of students and the work of teachers, parents and members of the community who support young people to develop stronger literacy and numeracy skills.

One of the literacy activities is Read for Australia. This is a simultaneous read where groups from around Australia read the same book on Friday 29th August at 2pm EST. A video of the book with Auslan for the hearing impaired, captions and a transcript will be released a week before the read.

The book selected for 2014 is Sunday Chutney, a picture book by Aaron Blabey. This book looks at friendship and what it’s like to be different. It was shortlisted for the 2009 Australian Book Industry Awards as well as the CBCA Picture Book of the Year. I was Queensland CBCA judge at that time – and thrilled that it was shortlisted.

Sunday Chutney

Teacher Notes for a range of ages is available on the NLNW website.

I’ve written notes for Years 5-6, which include a focus on the ‘panelling’ (a feature of graphic novels and some picture books) in the illustrations.

The author of Sunday Chutney, Aaron Blabey is a talented man. Some may remember him as the award-winning TV star of the political satire The Damnation of Harvey McHugh. He is a visual artist (much of his work is strictly for adults not children, though!) as well as a respected and popular writer and illustrator of a plethora of children’s picture books.

His most recent release (July 2014)  Pig the Pug is published by Scholastic Press. This is a very funny rhyming story about a selfish pug called Pig who won’t share his toys with his flatmate Trevor the sausage dog. This leads to a dire but hilarious comeuppance. Blabey’s illustrations have a distinctive style. His characters frequently have wide, puppet-like faces with popping eyes. He often uses a predominately brown palette, which sets his books apart from the pack – and works! He is a fitting ambassador for NLNW.

What Were Girls Like?

I am JulietThree recent YA historical fiction novels by Australian women (all published by HarperCollins/ABC Books) inhabit times when girls had to bend to the influence of men and were comparatively powerless.

The Raven’s Wing is Frances Watts’s first novel for teens. It is set in Ancient Rome where fifteen year-old Claudia is strategically offered in marriage several times. Making an alliance which can best help her family is paramount. Primarily a romance, the book addresses Claudia’s growing awareness of human rights (here through the fate of slaves) which interferes with her sense of duty and makes her a much more interesting character than the docile cipher she is expected to be.

I am Juliet by Australian Children’s Laureate, Jackie French, is based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. French’s Juliet is a fleshed-out focal character. Superficially she shares some of Claudia’s privileged lifestyle features: attended by maids who wash and dress her and apply her makeup; elaborate meals; and protection behind high walls. Medicinal and other herbs and plants are a feature of their times; and Juliet and Claudia both face imminent arranged marriage, but are aware of a dark man in shadows. Their stories, also, contain a story within a story.

Jackie French has reinterpreted Shakespeare previously – in her excellent Macbeth and Son which grapples with the nature of truth. She has also addressed the role of women in history, perhaps most notably in A Rose for the ANZAC Boys

Ratcatcher's Daughter Issy, the thirteen-year-old protagonist of Pamela Rushby’s The Ratcatcher’s Daughter, doesn’t share Claudia and Juliet’s privileged backgrounds. Set in a well-drawn Brisbane of 1900, Issy’s father is a ratcatcher during the bubonic plague. Issy is offered a scholarship to become a teacher but her family refuse it due to lack of money. The issue of the poor’s inability to take up opportunities that the rich assume is reiterated throughout the novel.

The Ratcatcher’s Daughter and I am Juliet include background notes about the historical period and other points of interest.

 These three books unite in their exploration of girls who are prepared to defy tradition to control their own lives, where possible, in spite of general lack of female empowerment. I hope that this really was possible and is not just a revisionist interpretation.

It is interesting that this crop of YA historical novels has appeared now. Are these authors finding a story-niche or reflecting current concern? Although surely girls today, particularly in a country such as Australia, are more fortunate in their freedom and choice. The Raven's Wing

 

What will win YA Book of the Year?

 

Sky so HeavyThe CBCA (Children’s Book Council of Australia) winning and honour books will be announced on Friday 15th August. One of the most eagerly awaited categories (especially for bloggers) is the Book of the Year: Older Readers.

http://cbca.org.au/ShortList-2014.htm 

A surprise outcome in the OR category of this year’s shortlist is the appearance of FOUR debut novelists. The future of YA Australian writing seems very safe with this number of debut heavy-hitters.

The majority of the Older Readers’ shortlist is from the genre of contemporary realism, with two from speculative fiction.

Five of the six shortlisted authors are female. Bloggers who monitor the number of awarded female authors must be cheering. (It should be remembered, however, that the CBCA shortlist is judged on literary merit, not the gender of the authors or protagonists. The judges only have a two-year term so it’s hard to accept there may have been a gender prejudice in the recent past.)

Gay best friends or brothers are also punching above their weight in this category.

And a couple of the novels are very place-specific to Sydney and its surrounds.

Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil (HGE) was one of my top three YA novels for 2013 as outed in the Weekend Australian http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/turning-romance-on-its-head-for-young-adult-readers/story-fn9n8gph-1226613224447

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/hot-reads-for-summer/story-fn9n8gph-1226781555130

Life in Outer SpaceSo I’m obviously thrilled it has been shortlisted. It won the inaugural Hardie Grant Egmont Ampersand award and is contemporary realism, not sci-fi as implied by the title. Sam is an adorkable hero. He cannot believe that popular Camilla could like him. If you can’t wait for Melissa’s next book, The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl (Sept), read Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan.

 

Another brilliant novel is Fiona Wood’s Wildlife (PanMacmillan). Sybilla is a complex – introverted yet easy-going – character who discovers much about herself and her peers on her extended school camp.

WildlifeFelicity Castagna continues the realism in The Incredible Here and Now (Giramondo). It is of enormous appeal for anyone who knows Sydney’s west and for teen boys in particular.

Will Kostakis adds humour to the mix in The First Third (Penguin), a contemporary Greek tragi-comedy.

Claire Zorn seamlessly incorporates human rights issues into The Sky so Heavy (UQP). This is a fast-paced post-apocalyptic story which begins in the Blue Mountains. Her new novel, The Protected is even better.

Fairytales for Wilde GirlsAnd Allyse Near creates her own sub-genre in Fairytales for Wilde Girls (Random), which co-won the Aurealis award.

Everyone is disappointed when YA books they love aren’t shortlisted. Surprise omissions for me this year are Simmone Howell’s edgy Girl Defective (Pan Macmillan), Amanda Betts’ luminous Zac and Mia (Text) and Jackie French’s Refuge (HarperCollins).

Which Book of the Year: Older Readers do you think should win?

What is the Eve Pownall Award?

Meet Capt CookThe CBCA (Children’s Book Council of Australia) shortlist is Australia’s most important award for children’s and YA literature. These books are celebrated in Book Week.

The CBCA shortlist generates most sales of awarded books – for children’s books, although perhaps not for YA books – in Australia. The shortlist is used as a buying guide for parents, grandparents and community members. Schools (especially primary schools) use it extensively for the build-up and culmination of Book Week.

These awards are unusual because there is such a long lead-time between the announcement of the 30 shortlisted books (around April) and the announcement of the winning and honour books in Book Week in August – this year on August 15th. The shortlist is possibly even more important than the winners. http://cbca.org.au/ShortList-2014.htm

There are five categories of shortlisted books, each with six books. Four of the categories are fiction and judged by a panel of 8 judges, 1 from each state and territory, who have a two-year judging term. The fiction books are judged on literary merit.

So, what is the Eve Pownall Award? This is not the place to look into the background of the award but its purpose is to judge non-fiction – Information Books. A panel of judges from the one state, as distinct from the fiction judging panel, selects the Eve Pownall shortlist.

The 2014 shortlist is generally aimed at primary age children and has a focus on our Indigenous people:

Jandamarra

Jandamarra is in picture book form. It is written by Mark Greenwood and illustrated by Terry Denton (Allen & Unwin) and looks at the conflicted Aboriginal hero or villain, Jandamarra. Welcome to My Country is written by Laklak Burrarrwanga and family (A&U) and is aimed at upper primary and secondary students. We are given an insight into NE Arnhem Land, particularly into ‘Yothu Yindi’ – the relationship between mother and child, people and land, land and land… Meet … Captain Cook by Rae Murdie, illustrated by Chris Nixon (Random House) naturally touches on Australia’s first people. It is an outstanding book in this series for younger readers. The design and stylised illustrations are excellent and the writing is understated and enhanced with humour.

Jeremy

Jeremywritten by Christopher Faille, illustrated by Danny Snell (Working Title Press) is for the youngest readers here. In picture book format it shows what could happen to a baby kookaburra. Ice, Wind, Rock by Peter Gouldthorpe (Lothian) is an evocative picture book about our Antarctica hero, Douglas Mawson. And finally, Yoko’s Diary: The Life of a Young Girl in Hiroshima, edited by Paul Ham (ABC Books) is a heart-breaking first-hand account of Japan in WWII by a twelve-year-old girl.

Which Information Book do you think will win the Eve Pownall award on 15th August?

Ice, Wind, Rock

Meet Suzy Zail, author of Alexander Altmann A10567

Thanks for speaking to Boomerang Books, Suzy.

Alexander Altmann

Your second novel for young adults, Alexander Altmann A10567 Black Dog Books (Walker Books)  is a candid account of a Hungarian boy’s experience in the concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau. In spite of the horrific events, you have crafted a story of human indomitability and hope. Was this a deliberate strategy?

Yes.   There’s no episode more grim than the Holocaust. Alexander Altmann A10567 doesn’t shy away from the fact that the world can be a bleak and crushing place, but I also wanted to remind readers that we’re capable of great things, that we can help – in big and small ways – and that our capacity for friendship can powerful.

 Why are you interested in the holocaust?

My father inspired me to write the book. I was a litigation lawyer when he was diagnosed with a terminal illness in 1998. My father had survived Auschwitz as a thirteen-year-old, but had never talked about his experiences. Once he was diagnosed he wanted to tell us everything. He didn’t want us to be victims or victimise others.

I left the law and spent the next 5 years writing his story, promising him, on the day he died, that I’d get it published. Writing The Wrong Boy and Alexander Altmann allowed me to remember him and pass on his warning never to forget.

Alexander Altmann was inspired by the true experiences of Fred Steiner, who worked in the elite horse commando at Auschwitz. What was the most disturbing thing he told you? The most hopeful?

The most disturbing episode was when he was forced to throw his baby cousin over a barbed wire fence hoping his aunt would catch him. (She did and that cousin is now living in San Francisco in her 60s.) The most hopeful was when Fred was severely whipped by the Commander but his wife called him by name and fed him cake.

How has the 2013 CBCA short-listing of The Wrong Boy changed your writing life?

wrong boy

 I came to writing fiction through non-fiction. It was a steep learning curve: from interviewing people to imagining them into existence. The short-listing allowed me to believe that my writing could touch people and I could master the craft of storytelling.

Why are you writing YA?

I didn’t pick YA. My stories did. Young adults are the next generation of leaders. They’re our future and the perfect audience for a story set in Auschwitz. The only way to prevent something like the Holocaust recurring is by trying to understand it and the best way to help kids do that is giving them a character to care about. Not millions of Jews – just one – a girl or boy their age with the same fears, dreams and insecurities.

I knew teenagers would relate to the stories because their lives, like Hanna and Alexander’s, can also involve betrayal, abandonment, loneliness and shame. They’re also discovering their identity, so a book that encourages them to examine intolerance and question how they want to live is powerful.

 

 

Bancks and Bongers

Two authors from the creative arc which encompasses northern NSW and SE Qld have had YA novels published recently.

two wolves

Tristan Bancks’ Two Wolves (Random House Australia) and Christine Bongers’ Intruder (Woolshed Press, Random House) both look at teens who have family problems and are struggling because of their parents and yet are able to work through these issues and strengthen their own characters.

Thirteen-year-old Ben Silver in Two Wolves has parents who are culpable. They have allowed him to grow up spending hours watching screens and to eat so poorly he is overweight. Their business dealings are suspect and the novel begins with Ben and his seven-year-old sister Olive being thrust into their car and on a ‘holiday’. Ben wants to be a detective and he is dubious about what’s going on, especially when he finds a bag of money in the cabin where they are staying.

While keeping the narrative exciting and fast-paced, Bancks poses moral dilemmas and choices which increase the depth and literary worth of the novel. Should Ben be a detective or thief? Should he warn his family when they are at risk? Should he run or surrender? Should he capitulate to the bad wolf of pride, jealousy and greed or follow the good wolf of kindness, hope and truth?

 intruder

Set in a Queenslander (Qld’s quintessential timber house) in Brisbane, Intruder explores a difficult situation where Kat’s musician father must leave her alone at night so that he can work. Her mother has died from cancer and neighbour, Edwina (who Kat seems to despise) looks out for her. Like Two Wolves, Intruder opens with a bang – Kat is awakened by an intruder. Whilst remaining in the same geographical location, this novel embarks on a literary journey as Kat makes friends at the dog-park and untangles and resolves the secrets of her past.

Both books refer to other literature: Kat has her selection of Roald Dahl books Matilda, The BFG and James and the Giant Peach. The protagonists in these books seem to resemble Kat because their parents are either not present or uncaring. Ben’s adventures remind him of Sam Gribley, the protagonist of Jean Craighead-George’s My Side of the Mountainbut he feels inadequate about his survival skills, especially when compared with Sam’s achievements.

In spite of traumatic situations, Ben and Kat make good decisions which will place them positively for the future. They are flawed, realistic but positive role-models for their teen readers.

A Snapshot of Australian YA and Fiction in the USA

The Book ThiefI’ve just returned from visiting some major cities in the USA. It was illuminating to see which Australian literature is stocked in their (mostly) indie bookstores. This is anecdotal but shows which Australian books browsers are seeing, raising the profile of our literature.

Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief was the most prominent Australian book. I didn’t go to one shop where it wasn’t stocked.

The ABIA (Australian Book Industry) 2014 overall award winner, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion was also popular. And a close third was Shaun Tan’s inimical Rules of Summer, which has recently won a prestigious Boston Globe-Horn Book picture book honour award. Some stores had copies in stacks.

http://www.hbook.com/2014/05/news/boston-globe-horn-book-awards/picture-book-reviews-2014-boston-globe-horn-book-award-winner-honor-books/#_

I noticed a few other Tans shelved in ‘graphic novels’, including his seminal work, The Arrival – which is newly available in paperback.

All the birds singing

One large store had an Oceania section, where Eleanor Catton’s Man-Booker winner, The Luminaries rubbed shoulders with an up-to-date selection of Australian novels. These included hot-off-the-press Miles Franklin winner All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld and Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, plus expected big-names – Tim Winton with Eyrie, Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North and works by Thomas Keneally and David Malouf. Less expected but very welcome was Patrick Holland.I chaired a session with Patrick at the Brisbane Writers’ Festival a few years ago and particularly like his short stories Riding the Trains in Japan.

Australian literary fiction I found in other stores included Kirsten Tranter’s A Common Loss, Patrick White’s The Hanging Garden and some Peter Carey.

One NY children’s/YA specialist was particularly enthusiastic about Australian writers. Her store had hosted Gus Gordon to promote his picture book, Herman and Rosie, a CBCA honour book, which is set in New York City. They also stocked Melina Marchetta’s Looking for Alibrandi and Saving Francesca, John Marsden, David McRobbie’s Wayne series (also a TV series), Catherine Jinks’ Genius Squad (How to Catch a Bogle was available elsewhere) and some of Jaclyn Moriarty’s YA. One of my three top YA books for 2013, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee was available in HB with a stunning cover and Foxlee’s children’s novel Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy was promoted as part of the Summer Holidays Reading Guide.

The children of the king

Elsewhere I spied Margo Lanagan’s The Brides of Rollrock Island, published as Sea Hearts here (the Australian edition has the best cover); Lian Tanner’s Keepers trilogy; John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice and Sonya Hartnett’s The Children of the King. These are excellent books that we are proud to claim as Australian.

Doodles and Drafts – On a Quest with Rosanne Hawke

9780702253317Tales of aid working in disaster-ravaged lands may not be the first thing young readers reach for. However, Rosanne Hawke’s junior novel, Kelsey and the Quest of the Porcelain Doll is a captivating mixture of enchantment and adventure with the added bonus of being rich in cultural awareness and humanity, attributes Hawke is well known for.

Almost nine year-old Kelsey is plucked from her comfortable Australian existence and ‘stuck in Pakistan’ after her parents decide to help the flood victims there. She misses her friends and her Nanna Rose, and regards her temporary confinement within a remote country village as something of a jail-sentence.

Fortunately, first-world modern conventionality co-exists comfortably alongside third world simplicity and Kelsey is able to keep in touch with Nanna Rose through Skype and emails. Through these media, the two of them conjure up a whimsical tale about a beguiling porcelain doll called, Amy Jo who is searching for love and a place to call home. Amy Jo’s quest takes her through jungles, over waterways, and in and out of many hearts and hands until she finally discovers her true destiny and becomes intrinsically entwined with Kelsey’s own fate.

Rosanne HawkeFinding ones sense of place and belonging and feeling loved and appreciated are emotions every child will have little difficulty identifying with. Just how Rosanne Hawke manages to do that through the eyes of a doll is about to be revealed. Today, I welcome her to the draft table.

Q Who is Rosanne Hawke? Describe your writerly self.

I read a lot, think about things and love to write. If I don’t write I can become downhearted. I journal in order to work out who the characters are and what they are like. My research often goes in to the journal as well. Images help me with ideas and so I like to cut and paste (Always have since I could use scissors). Sometimes I draw (not very well). I like to go to a place which will be the setting of my story as it’s the fine detail like a flower or a certain animal that lives there which can bring a genuineness to the story, and it’s easier for me to visualise as I write. It isn’t always possible – I couldn’t go to Afghanistan when I wrote the Borderland series but I met many Afghans in Pakistan and poured over National Geographic issues and spoke to people who had been there.

Q You’ve written a varied collection of stories for children. Name some of your favourites. Why do you regard them as standouts?

Kelsey and the Quest of the Porcelain Doll as it is my youngest novel in print and gives young readers a taste of culture and adventure with a link to Australia. Also Zenna Dare for YA as it explores reconciliation on many levels and is set in Kapunda. There is so much of my family and myself in the book as is in The Messenger Bird, which is actually set in my house.

Q You were partly inspired to write about Kelsey by stories about lost things and being found like, The Lost Coin, The Velveteen Rabbit and The Tin Soldier. How strongly did Amy Jo want to be heard and have her tale written about? What makes her story special?

Amy Jo plaitsAmy Jo was lost and wanted to find someone to love her even while she was lost herself. What makes her story particularly special is that my daughter’s real doll is named after a person called Amy Jo who was my daughter’s friend. Years later Amy Jo died in childbirth and my daughter said how nice it would be to write the doll stories that I told her about Amy Jo when she was nine and to dedicate the book to the memory of the real Amy Jo.

Q I particularly enjoyed the way you dedicated different chapters to different characters depending on which part of Amy Jo’s adventure or Kelsey’s story we were in and who was telling it. How important was it for Amy Jo to have her own voice? Do you think this makes her quest more believable?

Yes, I think readers would want to know what Amy Jo was thinking and doing, so I put the storytelling in different chapters. Also I thought this may be less confusing for younger readers than having it all together in one chapter.

Q Your stories are often set in distant lands, introduce young readers to peoples and places, and food and customs they may not have encountered before or fully understand. How important is that for you as a storyteller? Why?

Firstly I loved stories set in diverse places when I was a child; secondly, because I lived in the Middle East I miss it and so tend to write about it. Also since I am interested in it I may hear or read of a topic like trafficking or a forced marriage and want to write to give a voice to children in the world who don’t seem to have one at the moment. In setting a story outside Australia I hope readers will be able to ‘see’ the characters and experience where they live, and discover that although the setting and problems are different the characters are not so different from themselves. In this way children may discover that knowledge dispels fear. I also write books set in Australia, especially with Cornish themes, as I am a fourth generation Cornish-Australian descendant.

Q Kelsey is an appealing character for 8 – 12 year-olds. Would you like to see her mature through further adventures or do you prefer to write stand-alone stories?

MustaraThank you, I usually write stand alone stories and because so much goes into them, they usually feel finished to me. When I wrote The Keeper I knew there was still unfinished business so when readers asked for a sequel I did so. There are three books now in The Keeper series. I had this same feeling about Mustara. The end papers show Taj and the explorers setting off which is a new beginning, so that’s why I wrote the novel: Taj and the Great Camel Trek.

Q What’s on the draft table for Rosanne?

I am finishing a children’s novel about an immigrant girl from Cornwall set in 1911 who comes with her family to farm in the South Australian Mallee. It’s a huge difference from Cornwall and she doesn’t like it. For YA I’m working on a novel about a high school girl in Pakistan who is accused of something dreadful.

Just for fun question: Have you ever encountered the Headless Nun whilst wondering around Kapunda?

No, I haven’t, but Kapunda has a ghostly reputation because of the mines and tunnels under the town. I live in a house with underground rooms too but so far it’s just us here.

Sounds thrilling nonetheless, thanks Rosanne!

Read a full review for Kelsey and the Quest for the Porcelain Doll here.

UQP June 2014

 

Pakistan for Children – Kelsey and the Quest of the Porcelain Doll

 

9780702253317It is rare to find an exceptional novel for children with the current emphasis on YA literature rather than on children’s books. Kelsey and the Porcelain Doll by Rosanne Hawke (UQP) is an exceptional Australian book for younger readers. With her background of living in Pakistan as an aid worker, Hawke has incorporated cultural and lifestyle details authentically into a perfectly formed story.

8-year-old Kelsey moves temporarily to Pakistan with her father who will help the people rebuild after a flood and with her mother who is a nurse. Pakistan seems like an alien place to Kelsey with its Bollywood music, mudbrick houses and ‘charpai’ woven beds. She particularly misses her afternoon teas with Nanna Rose. During their Skype sessions Nanna Rose, with additions by Kelsey, tells the story of a porcelain doll which is bought by an elderly lady and sent a long way by airmail. She is checked for bombs by customs, grabbed by a dog, dropped into a flooded river, stolen by a monkey and cared for by a couple of children.

The chapters about the doll, Amy Jo, alternate with chapters about Kelsey who has made a friend, Shakila, and is becoming part of life in her remote village school. She is able to demonstrate spoken English to help the students and asks her class in Australia to help raise money for pencils, exercise books and medicine. Even though Kelsey is comparatively rich materially, Shakila is rich in family, with multiple relatives. Rosanne Hawke doesn’t shy away from the gritty reality of life in Pakistan. One of the school girl’s sister drowned in the flood and the water shouldn’t be drunk – a problem for Kelsey when she saves Shakila’s little brother from the river. Urdu words are used thoughtfully throughout the book, and are also explained in a glossary. And Kelsey reads an ebook about a ‘girl who disappeared into paintings on the wall to save her family in the past’. (This book is outed in the ‘Acknowledgements’ as The Four Seasons of Lucy McKenzie by Kirsty Murray – an outstanding book published in 2013 which won the Children’s category of the Aurealis awards). In creating this tale, Hawke has also been inspired by The Tin Soldier, The Lost Coin and The Velveteen Rabbit and the illustrations have been thoughtfully drawn by award-winning Briony Stewart.