On Monday, we spoke to author Penni Russon about how she became an author. Today she is going to tell us all about the inspiration behind her award winning book, Little Bird.

Little Bird tells the story of teenager, Ruby-lee who falls in love with the baby she is looking after.

Congratulations Penni on receiving a 2010 CBCA Notable for Little Bird. Can you tell us where the inspiration for this book came from?

I worked in childcare the year after I left school, then as a babysitter all through uni. I had that experience of working with a particular baby who I fell for. It was a physical, almost biological, love (not icky!), which I recognised when I held my own babies years later.

I’d recently done a week of regional touring where I talked to lots of girls who didn’t read. So Ruby-lee lives in an ex-council estate outer suburb of Hobart, and is a non-reader and at one stage her teacher says something along the lines of ‘why are girls like you so determined to oppress yourselves?’, reflecting my own frustration.

Are any of the characters based on real people?

The character of Spence (baby Maisy’s estranged father and a teacher at Ruby-lee’s school) is based on a real person – I was interested in the idea of a teacher who falls for a student, exploring him not as a social pariah or even a dirty old man, but as someone a bit sad and pathetic, though not irredeemable.

Having worked in childcare, you obviously knew a lot about it. Was there any reason you wanted to feature childcare in your book?

I wanted to write about a girl who wants to be a childcarer in recognition of the fantastic young women I worked with, and also the young men and women who have looked after my own kids.

Childcare is a terribly undervalued and underpaid industry, but it also offers amazing opportunities for young women to move up quickly through the ranks, and to travel and support themselves.

Can you tell us about your main character, Ruby-lee?

I love Ruby-lee. I think I love her the most of all my characters. She is flawed – she lets herself be pushed around by big personalities, is too easily impressed, and she has a lazy streak. But though she’s grown up in a culture of not reading (she used to read in primary school but fell out of the habit), she is quick witted and reflective and she actually expresses herself eloquently – she has all this possibility lurking beneath her surface. And she has a really heightened sense of right and wrong, and in the end she starts making decisions that shows she’s in control of her future, she is not just the sum of her past.

How have you used the ‘little bird’ motif in your story?

I wove a thread all the way through the manuscript. In the end the bird represents both Maisy, the baby bird that Ruby-lee must protect, but also Ruby-lee herself, a bird about to spread her wings and leave the nest. It gave the novel a poetic strand it was missing, that delicately wove all the emotional threads of the story and I was very proud of the end result.

It’s always great for readers to find out how their favourite books have been created. Thanks Penni for for sharing the story of Little Bird with us.


An embarrassing cook-up

There were undoubtedly some red faces at Penguin Group Australia yesterday when they announced they were reprinting 7,000 cookbooks over a recipe for pasta.  The “Pasta Bible” recipe for spelt tagliatelle with sardines and prosciutto was supposed to call for black pepper but due to a “silly mistake” by a proofreader, it specified a decidedly more macabre ingredient be used – “freshly ground black people”.

Penguin were quick to issue a statement and apologise to anyone offended.

“Misprints are always unfortunate and they are doubly unfortunate when they carry an unintended meaning. As the Pasta Bible is a cookbook, there was obviously no intent behind this mistake – it was simply a regrettable error. […] In this case it is clear that a spell-check error crept in, the recipe incorrectly suggesting the addition of salt and freshly ground black people instead of freshly ground black pepper. Normally such an error would be picked up by proof readers, but they would have been concentrating on checking quantities, a common source of error in cookbooks.”

7,000 copies of the Pasta Bible were immediately quarantined in Penguin’s warehouse and pulped, and revised edition of the Pasta Bible will be available from late May 2010. The recall will cost Penguin $20,000, according to the head of publishing, Bob Sessions,  in the Sydney Morning Herald . ”In one particular recipe [a] misprint occurs which obviously came from a spellchecker. When it comes to the proofreader, of course they should have picked it up, but proofreading a cookbook is an extremely difficult task. I find that quite forgivable.

As someone who tends to be a little slapdash with my keyboard and skim rather than re-read carefully, I’m sympathetic. I have sent out a few corkers in my time. Probably the most embarrassing was an e-mail I sent to several members of management in a company I had just started work with, cancelling a meeting and apologising for “any incontinence caused”.

I can tell you, when that meeting was rescheduled, no one wanted to sit next to me.

Still, Penguin aren’t the first publishers to have this problem. Printers’ errors are fairly common, and calling a book a Bible seems to be an invitation for trouble. In addition to occasional heavy-handed translation, the Good Book has an impressive history of errors and bloopers. Like the Pasta Bible, The Fools Bible of 1763 contained an expensive misprint; Psalm 14:1 reads “the fool hath said in his heart there is a God”, rather than “…there is no God”. The printers were fined three thousand pounds and all copies ordered destroyed.

Less expensive, but probably more embarrassing at family parties was the Lions Bible where Kings 8:19 reads “thy son that shall come forth out of thy lions”, rather than “loins”. Let’s not bring them to the zoo, shall we?

Some of the Bibles advocate unorthodox approaches to morality. The Unrighteous Bible or “Wicked Bible” published in 1653 by Cambridge Press omitted a “not” before the word “inherit”, making Corinthians 6:9 read “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall inherit the kingdom of God?” and the Sin On Bible of 1716 exhorts readers to “Go and sin on more” rather than “Go and sin no more”.

My favourite is the “Printers Bible”, of 1702 where Psalm 119:161 reads “Printers have persecuted me without cause.” The first word was changed, possibly by a disgruntled typesetter, from “Princes”.

I suspect that poor proofreader at Penguin Books knows exactly what they mean.

It’s Time To Go … Dust Covers And Hard Covers.

Clothbound Penguin Classics SpinesInnovate or die is the philosophy underpinning all manner of technology. Buy a new computer or TV and it’s just about obsolete before you take it out of its box. Strangely, though, such innovation rules haven’t applied to books and reading. Sure, audio books and e-books are on the horizon, but they’re the first major change in book formats for aeons—and even now the old styles seem to be hanging on. I’m talking dust covers and hard covers—two aspects of book formats that should have been allowed to die an undignified death long ago.

As a former bookseller, it took all my effort not to roll my eyes when some pretentious parent affecting a too-proper accent would sneer at paperbacks and request books for their child only in matching, hard cover-replete-with-dust-cover box set formats. Whether the child wouldn’t bother reading such books because they’d be forced to wear white gloves and sit quietly in the corner in the antithesis of book reading enjoyment, or whether—worse—they’d be precocious twats who most likely weren’t liked by their classmates and probably put others off reading, varied. Either way, hard covers and dust covers did—and do—reading a disservice.

Books are meant to be read, enjoyed, taken with you, slotted into hand- or man-bags, pulled out on the bus or train or at the beach, and read at every available opportunity. In fact, books go hand in hand with verbs: read, devour, discuss, debate, analyse, critique. Hard covers and dust covers? They get in the way of the action, literally and figuratively. Their very names connote a lack of action and instead imply books sitting stationary on shelves, unread and gathering dust.

Then there’s their cumbersomeness and fragility. As far as I’m concerned, anything that detracts or distracts from the reading process—by falling off, flapping around, getting in the way physically, or through forcing you to worry about whether it might, through normal use, be too heavy to carry or too fragile to survive the journey—has to go. Indeed, I think dust covers are like wrapping paper—they’re meant to be torn off in eager anticipation of discovering and enjoying the present underneath.

Dust covers first appeared in the 19th century when some clever dick came up with the idea of using them for advertising. Innovative at the time, but it’s no longer, with the advent of much better ways to advertise your product, the case. So why haven’t hard covers and dust covers gone the way of the idea dodo? They’re expensive to produce and purchase, fragile to ship, display, and handle while reading and, if advertising really was the underlying premise, no longer effective, as the first thing many of us do is remove the dust cover and ignore it. Who even still has the dust cover wrapped, intact, around the book by the time they’ve finished it? Who just about gets bedsores or aching arm drop off trying to read too-heavy hard covers in bed?

Clothbound Penguin Classics Spines

The only hard covers that might win me over these days have done away with the dust cover (hooray!) and applied some design innovation. You know the ones. The oh-so-cute, at-once-timeless, clothbound Penguin Classics, which include pink flamingo-adorned Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, peacock feather-like decorated The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the delicate flowers of Sense and Sensibility. Contrary to run-of-the-mill hard covers and dust covers, which put you off an otherwise good book, these covers make you want to read, buy, and physically touch (yep, verbs again) these classics.

We probably shouldn’t be surprised that these new takes on old books have come from the same company that brings us good reads at budget prices courtesy of such orange-covered modern classic titles as In Cold Blood, The Secret History, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. And we probably shouldn’t be surprised that the reason both these new clothbound classics and the old budget reads are so popular: Penguin understands that reading is the key and, instead of turning off readers through cumbersome design and prohibitive pricing, they’re turning on readers with good design and affordable prices. In short, they’re making the wrapping paper appealing, but know that it’s the present under that paper that’s the key.

Adele Walsh on movie adaptations

I’m not the only perpetual adolescent in the world, and the plan is for this blog to feature a range of ‘adolescent’ voices, from young-adult authors, to young-adult readers. Adele Walsh, or as you may know her, Persnickety Snark, is one of the, if not the name in Australian young-adult blogging. Of course, if you said this to her, she’d humbly point out five or six bloggers she thinks are far better – but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m right :-). Every month, thousands flock to her review/commentary website for their young-adult book fix, and we’re excited to announce that she’ll be dropping by this blog every so often, to share her always-relevant two cents.

Please, don’t rob me of my childhood

The two Ms had a huge part in my love of the Australian young adult literature scene – a Ms Marchetta and a Mr Marsden.  Both were teachers that never taught me in the classroom, instead they influenced me on the page.  Both created two conflicted and strong female protagonists that really spoke to me as an Australian kid. Before that, I had thought of Australian books as whatever came from Mem Fox’s brain. It sounds narrow minded and doesn’t reflect my fantastic school librarians influence at all, but that’s what I thought as a mild-mannered tween book nerd. Hush was great and all but until Josie (Looking for Alibrandi) and Ellie (Tomorrow, When the War Began) came along, I hadn’t really seen myself, or more importantly, who I wanted to be, in the books that I was reading.

The convoluted machinations of the Alibrandi family and the depiction of Sydney allowed me to see myself and my country in startling clarity.  I was twelve and I felt as though my world had opened up. Ellie came along three years later and I embraced her with fiery pride. These girls might have been struck with embarrassing crushes like me but they were strong, smart and impressively verbal. They weren’t perfect but neither was I. Melina Marchetta and John Marsden’s characters are forever ingrained in my memories of my teen years as a result.

You might be wondering at this point why I’m rambling on. Don’t worry, I’ll tell you. With the release of the film adaptation trailer of Tomorrow, When the War Began this month, I was struck with a familiar fear.  One I had exactly a decade ago when the adaptation of Looking for Alibrandi was released in theatres. 

In 2000, I had just entered university and was finally in the same age range that Josie Alibrandi and Ellie Linton were when their lives turned upside down. Childhood passions are curious creatures, we hold tight, protecting them from our adult existences. I always used to chuckle when I heard claims that a director ruined a person’s childhood. While it might be melodramatic in some cases, revisiting a childhood landmark or bringing a book into the celluloid can often do just that. It shatters the golden memories that we have of that time in our lives when discovery was joyous.

I exited the cinema in 2000 sorely disappointed in Looking for Alibrandi. I was the only one amongst many of my friends to feel that way. It took me a year to realise I was being ridiculous. Cinema is a vastly different medium than a novel. Nothing was ever going to meet the internal movie that I had relived in my imagination for many years. It didn’t matter that Carly and Ivy were merged into one heinous teenage girl or that the passage of time seemed so much more compact. (That being said, I was devastated that Josie’s cousin, Robert, didn’t feature more heavily but with time I understood that it would have tampered with the narrative flow.) The essence of the novel was there.  In great part this was due to Marchetta’s role as screenwriter. The movie didn’t ruin my childhood image of Josie, Nonna Katia and their family history; it just gave me a deeper appreciation for the novel.

In the ten years since Looking for Alibrandi’s release I have seen other representations of my childhood remade… badly. I have to admit that I refuse to see the adaptation of Where The Wild Things Are due to the fact that it is perfect in my mind and I don’t wish to tamper with that image. I might be robbing myself of reliving that adventure in a different medium, but I am satisfied with the memories I already possess.

The Tomorrow, When the War Began movie went into production in late 2009 under the direction of experienced film maker, Stuart Beattie. With the current Internet age, I was well aware of the progress of producing from scripts to casting to the start of filming. I have been much more aware of the process of recreating a vivid childhood adventure than I was in the case of Marchetta’s novel. I also had an avenue (my blog) to moan about certain developments and share my concerns. When local soapie actors were hired to fill two of the eight central roles, I was outraged. A pin up girl as Ellie? My strong, wilful, intelligent Ellie was going to be depicted by an actress who readily showed off too much cleavage at the Logies? I was quite bereft. I was similarly peeved when a British actress was hired to play one of the teens – they couldn’t find someone good enough with an actual Australian accent? The actor playing Homer doesn’t have a big enough nose! I was scraping the bottom of the complaints barrel and didn’t care. Ellie and Homer were mine and they needed to be perfect.

With some time, some distance and the release of the teaser trailer, I am less concerned. The trailer has managed to depict some ordinary Aussie teens in an impossible situation. It doesn’t look cheap (and nor should it, the budget is around the $20 million mark), the English actress’ accent isn’t half bad and they scuffed the pin up girl up. I don’t know what I loved more – the sight of the jets flying over the camp, Homer getting sacked or Kevin flying through the air as flames chased his back. I have faith that the movie adaptation Tomorrow, When the War Began won’t besmirch my beloved teenage reading experience. And should it go the other way, I know I can accuse it of robbing me of my childhood…

Adele Walsh, Persnickety Snark

VIDEO POST: Joanne Harris reads from ‘Blue Eyed Boy’

Blue Eyed Boy by Joanne Harris
A gripping psychological thriller played out in cyberspace, from the bestselling author of Chocolat and The Lollipop Shoes. “Once there was a widow with three sons, and their names were Black, Brown and Blue. Black was the eldest; moody and aggressive. Brown was the middle child, timid and dull. But Blue was his mother’s favourite. And he was a murderer.” Blueyedboy is the brilliant new novel from Joanne Harris: a dark and intricately plotted tale of a poisonously dysfunctional family, a blind child prodigy, and a serial murderer who is not who he seems. Told through posts on [email protected], this is a thriller that makes creative use of all the disguise, deception and mind games that are offered by playing out one’s life on the internet.

VIDEO POST: ‘Let The Dead Lie’ trailer

Let The Dead Lie by Malla Nunn
Cooper is forced to resign when re-classified as mixed-race. Now in the tough coastal town of Durban he mixes labouring with some surveillance for his old boss. One night he stumbles upon the body of a young white boy and when two more bodies are found in his boarding house unwittingly becomes the prime suspect in a triple murder case.

The Star and Felicity Marshall

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

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

What came first, the pictures or the words?

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

What inspired you to tell this story?

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

What has been your biggest brush with fame?

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

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

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

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

Tell us about your favourite picture book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catch ya later, George

AN AUTHOR’S JOURNEY – Penni Russon Shares Her Story

Penni Russon has written seven books including Little Bird for which she has received a 2010 CBCA Notable award. We’re going to feature Little Bird on Kids’ Writing Capers on Wednesday, but today we’re going to talk about Penni, the author.

Penni grew up in Tasmania and says she still considers herself to be a Tasmanian writer.

Penni, can you tell us how your writing career started?

Writing was always something that existed at the periphery of my being, though as a primary school kid I wanted to be a clown, and then an actor.

By the time I started uni it was archaeology that I was interested in.

But really when you connect all those things up what they have in common is storytelling and, for clowning and acting, playfulness.

It also shows I didn’t ever want to be a proper grown up with an office job. I fell out of love with archaeology when I realised it was less about dreaming up stories than it was about verifiable facts. Along the way I always wrote – mostly poetry until my mid twenties when I discovered that I knew how to think in novels.

Was it hard converting storytelling to writing?

The actual becoming a writer seems easy. I finished my BA, thought ‘now what?’ and found the diploma in Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT. I vaguely thought there might be a job in it for me. I developed my writing and rewriting and workshopping skills (alongside some pretty fabulous peers, including one the Alllen & Unwin editor who edited my book, Little Bird.

I also did a work experience placement at Allen & Unwin and when I finished they kept giving me freelance editing work. Then my friend, writer Kirsty Murray, told me ‘they don’t want another editor, they’re waiting for you to write a book.’ So I did. I am very obedient.

What did working as an editor teach you about writing?

Working as a structural editor (reading books and writing big reports on what was working and what wasn’t, highlighting inconsistencies in the plot, or characterisation, asking questions like ‘what’s at stake for the main character?’) had been like an apprenticeship in being a writer, though I learned a lot by writing and rewriting my early novels too.

Do your books have any consistent themes/symbols/locations?

Birds come up a bit, the sea is a big motif for me (growing up on an island). My first three books were set in Tasmania, which I came back to for Little Bird. I am interested in that age where girls come into their power, sexually, but also in terms of understanding their effect on the world around them, their autonomy, their strength… I felt that I mishandled that transition, hurting people in the process. Perhaps that’s why I am so interested in exploring how different girls deal with it.

Thanks for sharing your journey with us, Penni. On Wednesday, Penni is coming back to tell us about how she wrote her award winning Little Bird and where the inspiration come from.

Hope you can join us then.


Why The Customer Isn’t Always Right

Reading the open letter posted up on Teleread this week made me realise something. When it comes to new technology, the customer isn’t always right. This open letter, addressed to ‘publishers’, covered ebook issues as varied as sales tax and ebook pricing, formatting of books and ebook reader firmware. Why Joanne, the author, believed she would achieve anything at all with this meaningless plea to the internet is beyond me.


… I know a fair amount about being a customer, and I know it shouldn’t be this hard … Why does it have to be this hard?

It is understandable that consumers are frustrated with the publishing industry’s speed of change. I am too. But the process cannot and will not be hurried along by gnashing of teeth, stamping of feet, and throwing your toys out of the pram. The reason things aren’t all working perfectly at the moment cannot be chalked up to one organisation, person or even one industry. Nobody has the power to enact the changes Joanne wants to bring about, let alone bring them about right now. To expect any different makes you little better than the archetypal ‘consumer’ described below by the brilliant author William Gibson:

Something the size of a baby hippo, the color of a week-old boiled potato, that lives by itself, in the dark, in a double-wide on the outskirts of Topeka. It’s covered with eyes and it sweats constantly. The sweat runs into those eyes and makes them sting. It has no mouth, no genitals, and can only express its mute extremes of murderous rage and infantile desire by changing the channels on a universal remote.

Why is it that arguments like Joanne’s are cropping up more and more in the blogosphere? My theory is that digital books, unlike dead tree books, are unique in that the process of getting recommendations, acquiring books and reading them are all achieved in one place. With a dead tree book, a friend might talk about a book, or perhaps you’ll read about it in a newspaper. Then you go into a bookstore, ask someone where you might find that book and then buy it. Then you take it home and read it. The process of finding out about a book, buying it and reading it – when it comes to ebooks – can all happen from your lap, perhaps even from one device. This is not conducive to a nuanced understanding of the industry.

So what are your other options? Read a lot. Ask a lot of questions. Find out who’s really to blame, and for what exactly. But most of all? Have a little bit of patience. Those of us reading ebooks right now are early adopters. Try to keep in mind that we’re not living in the future.

What are your chief complaints about ebooks – regardless of whether you read them? Ask me a question, and I’ll do my best to answer it in a future post.

Time tripping with Kate Forsyth

George’s little intro

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

“My top 5 time travel books”
by Kate Forsyth

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

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

Here are my five favourites:

1908 – Edith Nesbit, The House of Arden

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

1939 – Alison Uttley, A Traveller In Time

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

1954 – Lucy Boston, The Children of Green Knowe

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

This is what I try and do too.

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

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

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

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

1988 – Jane Yolen, The Devil’s Arithmetic

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

George’s little bit at the end

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

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

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

Catch ya later, George

That sinking feeling

This day 99 years ago the Titanic sank into the Atlantic Ocean, taking 1,517 lives with it. I grew up ten miles from the Titanic’s last port of call – Cobh in County Cork, Ireland – and the sad tale of the ship was familiar to me from a young age. My Dad told me it.

And just down the road off the coast of Kinsale is the wreck of the RMS Lusitania, an ocean liner torpedoed by a German U-boat in May 1915. She sank in eighteen minutes, killing 1,198 of the 1,959 people aboard. In fact, there are over 65 known shipwrecks off Cork, which is even more horrifying when you realise the county is only eighty kilometres wide, almost all of which my father was only too delighted to share the terrifying details of.

So growing up with a father with a penchant for horror stories, as far as we were concerned, ships sank. A lot. The more “unsinkable” the better the odds they would be on the ocean floor by sundown. When my family’s first ever experience with rough weather at sea happened we were understandably nervous.

We were on a huge car ferry from Cork to France and a force nine gale had sprung up out of nowhere. The wind howled around the boat and the ship listed erratically from side to side, making walking around almost impossible. My father had been in the Navy and read several books on the wrecks. You would think he would have consoled his two children, one of whom needed to be seasick, with cheerful thoughts on how maritime law had been updated from the cautionary tale of the Titanic to provide enough lifeboats for everyone and how hardly any large passenger boats sank these days.

Oh no. My Dad saw a chance to regale a captive audience with tales of terror, and he went for it. They wouldn’t be able to send out the lifeboats, we’d be on our own. Our own lifeboats would capsize in the swells. And there was no point sticking on a lifejackets – if the boat sank, he explained, the wake of it would pull us down and we’d drown. Even if we avoided that, we’d get hypothermia. And possibly sharks. EVIL sharks.

The result? Two terrified and traumatized children, one of whom needed to be seasick. My Dad’s work here was done.

My father’s love of expanding on harmless situations by listing the worst available outcome may be where I get both my worry-wart tendencies and my interest in worst-case scenarios  and what happens when things go wrong. And specifically, how to survive it. To understand how people behave in a crisis is the first step, according to many books, in getting through that crisis. In the absence of clear instructions and peer action, people freeze. They don’t take advantage of what is called the “Golden Time”, the brief period where you can still affect what happens next.

To that end, I can only recommend the Worst-case Scenario series. Thick enough to use as a weapon and handily indexed for those moments when speed is of the essence, they provide a humorous but helpful guide to getting through disasters, perfect for the worry-wart in your family or for shutting up the disaster master when they are hauling you down Pessimism Alley.  Need to deal with a sinking ship, elephant stampede, mine collapse or a nuclear attack? Here’s your guide.

And, as an added tip, if my father starts telling you stories, you can hit him with it.

The Myth of the Children’s Book (Part 1)

If you read up on these kinds of things, you’ll already have been aware that the Hugo Award nominees for 2010 have been announced. Among them the name ‘Shaun Tan’ sits merrily, in the category of ‘Best Professional Artist’ . And if you’ve been hiding under a different rock from the one Shaun Tan’s been propped on, he’s the artistic genius behind such books as Arrival, The Red Tree, and The Rabbits.  I love them to bits.

But I have a confession to make. All those listed above are often marketed as children’s picture books. And I’m an adult.

Do you remember the first book you ever read (or had read to you)? There’s definitely an early one that imprinted itself on my brain: There’s a Hippopotamus on our Roof Eating Cake. And sure, I know that partly the reason I have loved this book every time I have opened it since, is that nostalgia for my 80s childhood. Yet there’s another larger part of me that can’t even remember what the book’s about – it’s the illustrations themselves that continue to draw me in. At the ripe old age of 26 (newly turned) I am still in love with the pink and purple colour combination! Seeing pretty colours together in print gives me some sort of weird inner peace and I immediately feel calm, as if all is right with the world – such is the power of illustration.

Shaun Tan himself is a master at wielding the power– his pieces are often dark and disturbing. Consider his use of colour in The Rabbits (written in collaboration with John Marsden). It’s a dark yet sensitive story about colonisation from the perspective of the ‘colonised’. The twist is that the colonisers are bunny rabbits.

The Rabbits cover itself could be interpreted by a number of perspectives:  the preschooler (happy, bright reds and blues), the agonised teenager (colours of rage and oppression), or the professional art critic (colonial imperialism, environmental destruction and cultural discord)! Even Mr Tan himself believes that his picture books are intended mostly for an older audience. In ‘Picture Books: Who are they for?’, Tan comments:

We [all] like to look at things from unusual angles, attempt to seek some child-like revelation in the ordinary, and bring our imagination to the task of questioning everyday experience. Why are things the way they are? How might they be different?
…But is this an activity that ends with childhood, when at some point we are sufficiently qualified to graduate from one medium to another? Simplicity certainly does not exclude sophistication or complexity; we inherently know that the truth is otherwise. “Art,” as Einstein reminds us, “is the expression of the most profound thoughts in the simplest way.”

In response to anyone who believes an imagination is ‘children only’ domain, I would argue that imagination never stops. An ‘innocent’ imagination transforms into a ‘critical’ imagination with age and experience, giving us the ability to explore abstract concepts and see them as capable of many meanings.

Having said all this, I don’t even want to PRETEND to think that there’s some ‘hidden meaning’ to that purple hippopotamus on the roof eating the pink cake. I think it’s a safe bet (though I could be wrong!) that for the little girl in the story, there really was a hippopotamus on the roof. And that’s it. If I probed very deep with my ‘psychology fingers’, there might be something to be said about the wider human need to create invisible friends to be different, or to be understood, or to never be alone. But really, my attraction to the book can be witnessed through the lullaby rhythm of the words and the pink and purple pictures. Plain and simple.

A continuous look back to the picture books of your early years, similar to the study of academic history, can reveal new things each time. To me, it’s the truest magic you can find in this world – a fantasy in reality, you might say. Perhaps for you, it will be a gentle meditation on a childhood lived. Perhaps it will reveal something about the person you are now. But if all you feel like seeing is the happy colours and playful words, then that’s ok too. No adult, no matter how old, smart or busy they are, should lose the urge to play.

Wild About Tea Cosies

Really Wild Tea Cosies‘Wild’ and ‘tea cosies’ aren’t exactly terms one would instinctively pair together, but not only does this irreverent pairing work, the book pairing them has been a runaway success. So successful, in fact, that Loani (pronounced Low-arni) Prior has just released her second book about knitted tea cosies. Its title? Really Wild Tea Cosies, of course.

I had the good fortune to hear Prior speak about her journey from quiet, unassuming home knitter to published author and ‘grand purl baa’ of tea cosy knitting (she puts it down to luck and sass to put her idea out there and to find an editor willing to take the chance), and I have to say that I was taken with just how self-deprecating and downright funny she is. I perhaps shouldn’t have been surprised given that her books include such designs as Carmen Miranda (yep, as is in a tea cosy covered with knitted fruitiness), green-eyed monsters, and court jester-style cosies, which come complete with tuckable, extendable, er, jester bits.

But what I was surprised by—and which would surprise most of us—is just how fondly tea cosies are regarded. Prior spoke of tea cosies that had been passed down through generations and which, while after all that time and use weren’t exactly the best looking, were far more than some wool around a pot—the tea cosies were imbued with love and treasured memories of family members and good times. Sure, she points to the fact that while women tend to use tea cosies for their intended purpose, men appear to have an inherent instinct to put tea cosies on their head. But it’s clear that the tea cosies bring joy to both sexes.

As a knitter with my training wheels on (I’ve recently joined my local Stitch ‘n Bitch group after being uber impressed by them when I visited for a story I was working on), the design skills and the knitting dexterity are something I can only at this stage aspire to. But the knitting instructions are concise and straightforward to follow and the images are both spectacular and inspiring for anyone who has mastered the not-actually-that-tricky-I’m-just-a-slow-learner knitting and purling. Part inspiration dip, part instruction manual, and part coffee table book, Really Wild Tea Cosies (and, indeed, its predecessor), is something special. Give me a week and I’ll be in the market for copies to beg, borrow, or—let’s face it—steal.

Multimedia Does Not A Book Make

The release today of the stunning Alice for iPad video on YouTube (above) has made me wonder, yet again, whether these ‘enhanced’ ebooks that are beginning to pop up (mostly on the iPhone’s App Store) are anything other than a gimmick. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, an enhanced ebook is an ebook with bells and whistles. They range from the no frills, DVD extras kind of thing – perhaps a written interview with the author, at best – to the sort of multimedia extravaganza that was put together for the release of The Death of Bunny Munro by Nick Cave. This iPhone enhanced ebook contains the full audiobook (read by Nick Cave) with backing music composed by the author (helpful that in this case the author is a musician), interspersed with video of the author in all his moustachioed glory.

For a long while, I’ve held the view that enhanced ebooks done properly (like Bunny Munro) are for people who don’t really like reading – and, in fact, aren’t even really books – and when done badly (I won’t name names), are just an excuse to charge $25 for something that is only worth $12. But I have changed my mind (at least about the former).

The new Bunny cover. Now with              less conspicuous female genitalia.

The argument is that by sticking audio or video into a book, it stops being a book (some would argue that this makes it a vook – those people are ridiculous; there is no such thing as a vook). Rather than ponder the metaphysical question of what really makes a book (I fear the answer may be full of smell-of-books style nostalgic silliness), I think it’s more worthwhile to think about how we – and by ‘we’, I mean me – consume books.

Nowadays, the way I read a book – ebook or not – is often peppered with mental interruptions, whether it’s wondering what a word means, questioning what the author is referring to or just following a trail of logic to its illogical conclusion. For me a book is not just the words on the page, but a series of associations I have made along the way. I’m not sure if this is a product of the internet age – where in order to understand what’s happening on Lost it’s necessary to have your laptop open and twelve tabs open in Google Chrome and be constantly flicking between each one before your attention runs out – but this is genuinely how I like reading. I suspect I’m not alone*.

The traditional paper book is, perhaps, the last great bastion of undivided attention and pure concentration. And that is lovely, for those times that you have great swathes of time and attention to spare. But the daily lives of many people sometimes don’t allow for that kind of reading experience. Should that mean that books get left behind other kinds of easy-to-consume media? I don’t think so. When I get off the train and want to keep reading, why not have Nick Cave continue reading me the story? And when the full brain freeze of reading is just too much for me, why shouldn’t I be able to check the news and reviews on an author simultaneously?

What do you think? Have you ever tried an enhanced ebook? Would you? How many books do you read a year? Do you think you might read more if they were a bit more accessible?

*Yes, I’m talking about you. You know who you are. You’re the one who looks up the name of every movie mentioned in a casual conversation on IMDB on your iPhone.


Hazels Edwards‘ new picture book, Plato the Platypus Plumber (Part-time) is the story of a platypus who is also a part time plumber. Plato is the imaginary friend of a young boy called Zanzibar who has all sorts of things that need fixing around his home.

On call, Plato fixes watery problems like leaking taps, but he also fixes grumpy people. From his tool kit, he uses smile spray, a feather or a joke. The book is beautifully illustrated by John Petropoulos.

Hazel says her original idea was to create a story with two things that don’t usually go together. The story was originally an idea for a TV series about Zanzibar and his adventures.

Plato the Platypus Plumber (Part-time) was launched recently at Pasir Ridge International School in Indonesia. Hazel has agreed to share the experience with us.

Reading Plato at launch with Pasir Ridge Children

How did the school prepare for the launch?

Meg Baxter, the Early Childhood teacher and her enthusiastic staff  had organised a special ‘mud’ cake iced with a replica of the cover as well as ‘muddy’ chocolate milk. SFX of water noises. Charts of platypus facts, and even an story house, surrounded by recycled branches (in the spirit of the story) with an author  chair for the ‘first’ reading. To the side was a ‘creek’ with platypus shapes.

The children had all created their own plumber tool kits in mini cases. Teachers had prepared the children well.

What else was unique about the preparations?

There were platypus prints leading into the room and up to the pile of  Plato the Platypus Plumber (part-time) books.

Can you tell us about the author signing?

International school children have names from many cultures. And that can be a challenge when you are autographing. A first edition book should be dated as well as signed by the author and illustrator, (but he was back in Melbourne)

So Indonesian teachers helped with typed slips of children’s names for autographing. Many are KTC s  Kids of the Third Culture, where parents may be nationals of different countries and the child born or schooled in a third.  But stories cross all cultures.

Sounds like the teachers were very resourceful, Hazel. And in your book, Plato helps Zanzibar to develop these same kind of problem-solving abilities. Why do you think it’s important for children to have these skills?

Being willing to try new ways of solving problems, even if you get it wrong occasionally, is the only way we learn. It’s okay to do things differently.

What was your favourite part of the launch?

For me the special pleasure was that once I’d talked about how a book was also created by the reader from the clues given by the illustrator and the author,  the children sprawled on the rug and all read the book for themselves.

‘Mine is the first Plato book signed in the whole world,’ said one little boy as he sat down to read.

Thanks for sharing this wonderful experience with us, Hazel.

Find out more about Plato the fixer and eco-warrior at


VIDEO POST: James Bradfield-Moody talks ‘Sixth Wave’

James Bradfield-Moody chats with Random House about his new book, The Sixth Wave, written with Bianca Nogrady, out now.

The Sixth Wave by James Bradfield Moody and Bianca Nogrady
Five waves of innovation, beginning with the Industrial Revolution, have each transformed society, economies and industry. The fifth wave was dominated by information and communications technology but its peak is beginning to fade. The sixth wave of innovation will be about resources – natural resources, human resources and information.

VIDEO POST: Masterchef Julie Goodwin on her new cookbook

Julie Goodwin, Masterchef 2009 winner, chats to Random House about her brand new cookbook.

Our Family Table by Julie Goodwin
Since taking out the coveted title of Australia’s first MasterChef, Julie Goodwin has been cooking, testing and writing away like mad, preparing to publish her first cookbook. Full of lovely stories and recipes and feasts, with a strong focus on good old-fashioned tucker.

VIDEO POST: ‘Return of the Prophet’ Trailer

Return of the Prophet by Greig Beck
When a massive amount of gamma radiation is detected somewhere beneath the desert of Iran, the world begins watching. Is it a nuclear weapon, or something much much worse?
Alex Hunter and his highly trained incursion team are dropped into the ruins of Persepolis but find nothing. No lab, no weapons, no scientists not even radiation. A black hole has taken everything, but is it possible something could have come back?
The President of Iran is making speeches about the end of the world and the return of the prophet, and yet another gamma spike is detected in Iran. Israel is threatening nuclear war, and the details of America’s Arcadian program have been stolen. And someone, or something, is draining the fluids from the bodies of Iranian soldiers in the desert…
The moon is buried in darkness and the world is folded.
Alex must face his fears and follow the traces of radiation to the ancient caves of Arak. Inside those tunnels he will come face to face with a creature from his darkest nightmares. The clock is ticking until the end of the world and the judgment of mankind. Balances must be kept, decisions will be made but who will be found wanting?

The Stars, up close and personal

Clash of the Titans may be the latest 3D must-see movie, but I haven’t gone yet, and I am not sure I want to. I’m bizarrely attached to the old version from the 1980’s, complete with Harry Hamlin hamming, stop-motion monsters and a jerky Pegasus, and I’m not sure I want to see the new look version, shiny and all as it will undoubtedly be.

Clash of the Titans is an old favourite if mine for another reason – it started me looking at the stars. The movie has scenes where they overlay the constellations with images in the sky; an odd Y shape becomes the warrior Perseus, sword in hand, and a few twinkling lights becomes Pegasus, flying through the skies.  It was the first time I had heard that stories of the shapes of constellations. My uncle was a keen stargazer and, realising that he might be able to use my love of ponies to talk about something other than ponies (I was a very single-minded child), he took me out to show me the night sky through his telescope. I was hooked.

I stayed interested in star-gazing into adulthood – although in Ireland it can be a bit of a letdown, what with the near-permanent cloud-cover and rain for most of year. One of the reasons visiting Australia excited me was seeing the stars of the Southern Hemisphere for the first time. (Another, and please do not hold this against me, was to see if water flushed the other way round in the toilets once you crossed the equator due to the Coriolis effect.)

The majesty and mystery of the night sky has captured the imagination of many people, from our ancestors who looked up into the universe and saw their legends and gods, to the science fiction writers of today who imagine life amongst them. The stars have amazing stories and many people tell them well. While there are factual guides of the sky and useful atlases to find your way around, an excellent introduction to the sky that blends instruction with entertainment is Legends of the Stars, by Sir Patrick Moore. He brings the names of the stars and their ancient myths to life – Orion battles and Pegasus soars and for those of you worried you may be left behind, there are helpful celestial pictures to follow the action. If you are looking for a book to introduce the depths of the stars to a budding enthusiast, here is your Holy Grail.

Looking to explore the heavenly bodies that are a little closer to Earth? Legends of the Stars is a celestial guide with its feet firmly on the ground but Dava Sobel’s Planets defies classification. A lyrical biography of our near neighbours, mixing poetry by Blake and Tennyson with factual explanations of the deadly acid atmosphere of Venus, it is strange and wonderful guide to our Solar System. The planets are explored through myth, astrology, astronomy, music, literature and science-fiction and Sobel’s prose guides you surely from the Big Bang and the Sun in Genesis to the outer reaches of the Oort Cloud with both a sense of wonder and a sense of humour, in this surprisingly personal and intimate look at the planets.

For an even more human perspective on exploring the Solar System, Sobel’s Galileo’s Daughter is the story of the great Italian scientist Galileo and his daughter, Virginia, as told through their letters and contemporary accounts of their lives. Galileo – “the father of modern physics” – was a keen astronomer and scientistm was tried for heresy when he put forward the astounding proposition that the Earth actually moves around the Sun. His illegitimate daughter was a nun, and this book explores their relationship through their lives, the stars, and their shared interest in science and religion.

Whether you choose a classical, modern or human perspective on astromony, it’s a fascinatingly beautiful subject, and I’ll always have a soft spot for Clash of the Titans for bringing it into my life. What perspective on the skies do you enjoy, and do you have recommendations for budding astronomists?

A note on seven-legged spiders

I was conflicted as to where to put this post. On the one hand, this is not a young adult book, and surely doesn’t belong on the young adult blog. On the other, if there’s one thing you feel when you read The Internet is a Playground by David Thorne, it’s young. This is exactly the sort of book that Perpetually Adolescent is all about, the kind that, no matter how old you are, and where in life you find yourself, immediately drags you back to your adolescence, back when things were simpler, when you were invincible and everything was the funniest thing ever. You can’t help but slip into it, and you laugh harder than you’ve ever laughed before, and you actually find yourself not reading ahead, only to savour some of the belly laughs for tomorrow. It is absolutely hilarious.

And if it were possible, I would marry the seven-legged spider.

Those that also share my love of the seven-legged spider will be happy to know that The Internet is a Playground has been added to this month’s book giveaway.

Those that have not been introduced to the seven-legged spider haven’t received what is, without a doubt, the funniest chain email ever. It’s the Susan Boyle of chain emails. I fell on the floor, in absolute hysterics at several points while reading it. I called my mother upstairs. She read it. She, too, was crying she was laughing so hard.

I thought it was a one-off article. But apparently, there’s been more, lots and lots more – and now, they’ve been put into a book. It is, without a doubt, the most joyous collection I’ve ever read. Yes, some of the featured pieces are funnier than others (I wasn’t much of a fan of the edited photos), but as a whole, I’d recommend the entire collection for you, and anyone you know.

And now, to introduce you to the seven-legged spider, featured in one of many wonderful email exchanges printed in the book. If this doesn’t sell you on David Thorne’s brilliance… well, I honestly don’t know what will:

From: Jane Gilles
Date: Wednesday 8 Oct 2008 12.19pm
To: David Thorne
Subject: Overdue account

Dear David,

Our records indicate that your account is overdue by the amount of $233.95. If you have already made this payment please contact us within the next 7 days to confirm payment has been applied to your account and is no longer outstanding.

Yours sincerely, Jane Gilles

From: David Thorne
Date: Wednesday 8 Oct 2008 12.37pm
To: Jane Gilles
Subject: Re: Overdue account

Dear Jane,

I do not have any money so am sending you this drawing I did of a spider instead. I value the drawing at $233.95 so trust that this settles the matter.

Regards, David.

From: Jane Gilles
Date: Thursday 9 Oct 2008 10.07am
To: David Thorne
Subject: Overdue account

Dear David,

Thankyou for contacting us. Unfortunately we are unable to accept drawings as payment and your account remains in arrears of $233.95. Please contact us within the next 7 days to confirm payment has been applied to your account and is no longer outstanding.

Yours sincerely, Jane Gilles

From: David Thorne
Date: Thursday 9 Oct 2008 10.32am
To: Jane Gilles
Subject: Re: Overdue account

Dear Jane,

Can I have my drawing of a spider back then please.

Regards, David.

From: Jane Gilles
Date: Thursday 9 Oct 2008 11.42am
To: David Thorne
Subject: Re: Re: Overdue account

Dear David,

You emailed the drawing to me. Do you want me to email it back to you?

Yours sincerely, Jane Gilles

From: David Thorne
Date: Thursday 9 Oct 2008 11.56am
To: Jane Gilles
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Overdue account

Dear Jane,

Yes please.

Regards, David.

From: Jane Gilles
Date: Thursday 9 Oct 2008 12.14pm
To: David Thorne
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Overdue account

Attached <spider.gif>

From: David Thorne
Date: Friday 10 Oct 2008 09.22am
To: Jane Gilles
Subject: Whose spider is that?

Dear Jane,

Are you sure this drawing of a spider is the one I sent you? This spider only has seven legs and I do not feel I would have made such an elementary mistake when I drew it.

Regards, David.

From: Jane Gilles
Date: Friday 10 Oct 2008 11.03am
To: David Thorne
Subject: Re: Whose spider is that?

Dear David,

Yes it is the same drawing. I copied and pasted it from the email you sent me on the 8th. David your account is still overdue by the amount of $233.95.
Please make this payment as soon as possible.

Yours sincerely, Jane Gilles

From: David Thorne
Date: Friday 10 Oct 2008 11.05am
To: Jane Gilles
Subject: Automated Out of Office Response

Thankyou for contacting me.

I am currently away on leave, traveling through time and will be returning last week.

Regards, David.

From: David Thorne
Date: Friday 10 Oct 2008 11.08am
To: Jane Gilles
Subject: Re: Re: Whose spider is that?

Hello, I am back and have read through your emails and accept that despite missing a leg, that drawing of a spider may indeed be the one I sent you. I realise with hindsight that it is possible you rejected the drawing of a spider due to this obvious limb ommission but did not point it out in an effort to avoid hurting my feelings. As such, I am sending you a revised drawing with the correct number of legs as full payment for any amount outstanding. I trust this will bring the matter to a conclusion.

Regards, David.

From: Jane Gilles
Date: Monday 13 Oct 2008 2.51pm
To: David Thorne
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Whose spider is that?

Dear David,

As I have stated, we do not accept drawings in lei of money for accounts outstanding. We accept cheque, bank cheque, money order or cash. Please make a payment this week to avoid incurring any additional fees.

Yours sincerely, Jane Gilles

From: David Thorne
Date: Monday 13 Oct 2008 3.17pm
To: Jane Gilles
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Whose spider is that?

I understand and will definitely make a payment this week if I remember. As you have not accepted my second drawing as payment, please return the drawing to me as soon as possible. It was silly of me to assume I could provide you with something of completely no value whatsoever, waste your time and then attach such a large amount to it.

Regards, David.

From: Jane Gilles
Date: Tuesday 14 Oct 2008 11.18am
To: David Thorne
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Whose spider is that?

Attached <spider2.gif>


Today, Australian author, Michael Pryor is here to talk about his latest book, Time of Trial. Michael is the author of 24 books and has another two ‘under construction’. I use this term because Time of Trial is Book 4 in Michael’s Steampunk* series, The Laws of Magic.

Michael Pryor’s Laws of Magic is a six book series with each book standing alone within the sequence.

Michael, can you explain how this works?

Time of Trial, like the others has its own story while moving the overall narrative arc forward.

In this one I wanted to continue to explore the relationship between the characters—especially Aubrey and his mother—while also developing the political and magical intrigue.

Can you tell us what Time of Trial is about?

The Laws of Magic series is about young magical genius, Aubrey Fitzwilliam, in a world rather like ours just before World War 1. Aubrey is involved in espionage, plots and counterplots as Dr Mordecai Tremaine (the disgraced ex-Sorcerer Royal) tries to tip the world into war, for his own purposes.

In Time of Trial Aubrey’s mother, a prominent scientist, is invited to Holmland to a great symposium—but Aubrey is suspicious that this is a plot because Holmland is the main nation hurrying toward war, so he goes with her. Once there, he uncovers a plot to assassinate the heir to the throne of Albion, an outbreak of ghosts and ghost catchers, and various schemes, conspiracies and nefarious plans.

As with the other titles in the series, Time of Trial is a Fantasy/Adventure/Comedy/Romance.

Michael, I know that inspiration can come from strange places, but is it true that a thread from this story was inspired by bird poo?

Yes. Inspiration often comes while I’m researching.

I was reading a book about the invention of modern explosives (dynamite etc) and a chapter was devoted to how the procurement of high quality guano (sea bird droppings) was vital as a trigger for World War 1. I couldn’t resist that and so a whole plot thread was born.

In your books, you like to explore how young people cope in challenging circumstances. What traits have you given your main character, Aubrey Fitzwilliam to help him cope?

He is a highly competent seventeen year old. He’s intelligent, witty, dedicated, imaginative, brave and loyal. He’s also impulsive and sometimes over-confident.

What do you like most about Aubrey?

I like him because he has many sides. He’s not perfect, but he always tries hard to do the right thing. He’s a hero, but not an unblemished one.


The House of Legends Kit is a Fantasy Teaching Guide with a special section on Blaze of Glory, the first in the Laws of Magic series:


Michael’s books meet Australian Curriculum standards by providing students with an ‘imaginative learning experience’.

Thanks for dropping in, Michael. It has been fascinating hearing about your series.

Michael is currently editing his twenty-fifth book, Moment of Truth while working on number twenty-six, Hour of Need.

Congratulations to Michael whose book, Time of Trial (published by Random House), was a Notable at this year’s 2010 CBCA Awards.


* Steampunk are books set before the technological age when the main source of power was steam.

Time tripping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catch ya later, George

Giveaway News

It looks like we’ve cooked up the perfect cure for your Monday-itis… in the way of exciting giveaway news:

1. The absolutely hilarious The Internet is a Playground by David Thorne has been added to this month’s book giveaway. I was sent a review copy, and I’ve been laughing my way through it since it first arrived on my doorstep. Now, I have a copy to share with you all, thanks to our good friends at Fontaine Press. So, if you’re not a member, make sure you sign up today. Your funny bone will thank you.

2. As promised earlier in the month, we’re kicking off our Gone giveaway. We have 10 copies of Mo Hayder’s latest to give away (want a taste? Click here to view the exciting trailer). For your chance to win, just email me your postal address – it’s that easy! Entries close April 30. A big thanks to our friends at Random House for making the giveaway possible.

A Pirate’s Life For Me

The NYT’s The Ethicist created some controversy this week with an article considering the ethics of downloading pirated copies of ebooks. Specifically it responded to the question of whether it is ethical to download a pirated version of an ebook (when it is not available legally) if you purchase the hardcover edition of a book first.


An illegal download is — to use an ugly word — illegal. But in this case, it is not unethical. Author and publisher are entitled to be paid for their work, and by purchasing the hardcover, you did so. Your subsequent downloading is akin to buying a CD, then copying it to your iPod.

Under the Dome: A bloody heavy book

Needless to say, this has caused a stir in some publishing circles, and a number of other blogs and opinion pieces have responded to the question and explored many of the flaws in the argument. There’s no clear answer to this conundrum. The central premise seems compelling – people are used to only having to buy one format – you don’t have to worry about illegal downloading when you buy a CD or a DVD, you can easily rip music and movies to your computer yourself. Why should books be any different?

From personal experience, I think the reason this is even an issue is to do with the failure of the book publishing industry to understand the market and to respond to technological (and the resulting cultural) change. I don’t buy an ebook because it’s cheaper than the dead tree version. I buy it for all the other benefits an ebook gives me – I can start reading instantly, it can be searched, I can look up words in the dictionary or Wikipedia, I can carry multiple books around without hefting a load of paper, I can even read it on multiple platforms (PC, iPhone and Kindle) depending on when and where I feel like reading. The $9.99 price point that Amazon tried to set for ebooks is very nice, but more expensive ebooks are not going to turn me towards paper books, they’re just going to turn me towards other, better-priced ebooks.

The publishing industry needs to do more than re-educate consumers about the value of books. They need to respond to consumer need. Since the advent of digital piracy, consumers have a way of getting what they want, when they want it – bugger the ethics or the legality. To combat this, publishers need to make it easier to buy an ebook legitimately than it is to get it illegally. Practices like windowing and DRM are destined for failure for this reason; they punish the ethical. Publishers cannot just expect to change behaviour without meeting their readers halfway.

What do you think? Would you feel bad about downloading a pirated book if you couldn’t find the ebook anywhere else? Do you think owning the physical copy entitles you to a digital one? What can publishers do to lure you away from illegally downloading ebooks?

We Can Eat Too Much Sugar

The Girl With The Dragon TattooCall it airport fiction, call it mass market fiction, or call it trash, the reading equivalent of quick-fix, craving-inducing simple carbohydrates are something we all secretly or not-so-secretly love. You know the ones. The Dan Brown bestsellers and the books that need not be named by the Mormon mom turned author that have tweens and adults alike aflutter.

But before you pooh pooh such ‘lowbrow’ reading matter that’s the literary likeness of riding the sugar high, please consider that, as with simple carbohydrates, which have been blamed for all manner of societal and waist-measurement evils, such reading matter not only has its place in our reading diet, it can do us some good.

We can eat too much sugar, but we can never consume too many books. Any reading is good reading, be it reading the sides of cereal boxes, determining epic fails on signs (those are a whole other blog in themselves), conquering such tomes as Ulysses, or devouring page-turners such as Twilight and The Da Vinci Code.

Because we all know what happens with simple carbohydrates. We eat them. We eat them fast. They make us high and happy. Then they’re burnt up by our bodies (ok, or stored, but let’s not go there) and leave us hungering for more.

It’s the hungering for more is where the door opens for us to consume some more substantial books and to continue to expand our reading tastes. Seriously. Why do we always make each other feel as though our reading habits must be something like a cross between eating only wholemeal and raw health foods (which are fine, but never as tasty) and taking medicine?

Hands up who did further research into the Illuminati and Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper off the back of Dan Brown’s breakout bestseller? Hands up who ventured into unfamiliar reading territory to explore vampires and werewolves courtesy of Twilight? And hands up who is, like me, now firmly entrenched in Team Edward, although almost willing to have a foot in both camps based purely on the extraordinariness of Taylor Lautner’s abdominal muscles that were flexed at every available opportunity in the film adaptation of New Moon?

We’ve all been on crazy, carbohydrate-free diets and we know that they make us unhappy. We also know they end in a massive carbohydrate binge. The question is why we can’t use carbohydrates as part of—or a door to opening ourselves up to—a balanced literary diet? Because here’s the thing. I finally read the first book in the mass market series that has arguably stepped up to fill the post-Brown, post-Meyer void: Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

I found it less than ordinary. And that’s actually a good thing.

The book (and indeed the Millennium trilogy) has been a runaway bestseller, with relative non-readers around the world picking it up, enjoying it, and recommending it to others. The funny thing is, the book is slow. Interminably slow. I’m a voracious reader and I struggled with the first 300-odd pages of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I mean, sheesh, for a journalist who would have spent his life abiding by the inverted pyramid—or the rule that all the important information must be up front to draw readers in—Larsson completely inverted the inverted pyramid.

I think I could have skipped the first half of the book and been no worse off for it. I skimmed half the details about the Vanger family, which Larsson made far too large, with the various members blurring into similarity meh-ness. And the Lisbeth Salander character, the girl who sports the title’s tattoo, was unnecessarily (and boringly) difficult (I actually groaned when she stormed off for being complimented on having a photographic memory, then returned to the house when she was invited back in a pointless, irrelevant scene designed to demonstrate her different-ness). She’s a pale, caricatured character when you compare her with a strong, troubled, but interesting female such as Lucy Farinelli from Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series.

Yet in spite of these flaws, people—and, in my experience, most surprisingly non-readers—are enjoying The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and recommending it to others. Which is an excellent. If they are prepared to read through the 300-odd pages that should have been cut and put up with characters that either don’t enhance the narrative or that simply don’t quite work, they’re prepared to take a step up from simple carbohydrates to some more complex ones.

Indeed, rather than pooh poohing people’s enjoyment of white bread-like reads, we should be celebrating and encouraging their starting-somewhere simple carbohydrate-book diet.

The Book Burglar Meets The Book Thief

Considering the similarity of themes, titles, and habits (that is, a girl who steals books), it’s somewhat surprising that I hadn’t, until recently, read The Book Thief.

I know, I know. Given that it’s sold bucket loads in Australia, I must have been one of the only Australians not to have read it. But judging a book by its cover, I found the cover pretty bland. I’m naturally suspicious of any book that’s on the Top 100 Books list of the tried-to-pull-a-swifty-on-the-publishing-industry Angus & Robertson retail chain. And a book about a little German girl who steals books during WWII sounded slightly too Anne Frank-derivative and a lot heavier than I could enthuse myself to read.

But I finally succumbed over the Christmas period (mostly to enable me to comment intelligently on it when people pointed out the similarity between its protagonist’s and my own penchant for snatching books) and am pretty pleased I did.

The whole death-as-omniscient-narrator thing grated in the too-slow beginning, but thousands-of-people-can’t-be-wrong logic and Markus Zusak’s unusual turn of phrase kept me reading—as much to try to determine just how he came up with such clever constructions with such a lightness of touch.

Which is where he won me over.

I mightn’t think it’s the best book ever (to be fair to it, my expectations were sky high given the preceding hype) and I might have thought the narrative mechanisms and structures were at times a little twee, but I was impressed by Zusak’s ability to imbue life into (and help me see myself in) a small girl inexplicably driven to acquire books—even when she lacked the literacy skills to read them.

Above and beyond that, I owe Zusak a debt of gratitude for helping explain and justify my almost-physical need to commandeer books. I might not be a young orphan in Nazi Germany who needs books to help make sense of and develop a sense of security in the world, but the book-loving, book-hoarding compulsion transcends countries, languages, and borders. I now understand how a writer in Sydney could craft a story about Nazi Germany based on tales he heard growing up and why the story, which is as much about a love of books as it is about humanity, is selling well.

He might be a grown man writing about a young girl, but methinks that in creating that character, Zusak was channelling (and maybe publicly confessing and embracing) his inner book thief.

iPads and the end of books – can we grow the pot?

After my recent rambles on comfort books and moving house, I’d like to post on something a bit more serious today. Something I am both passionate and optimistic about – the future of reading.

I love books. So much I worked in a bookstore for a pittance rather than earn a decent wage when I was in college. It was a small business, staffed and owned by people who also loved books, and the expenses and income tended to be alarmingly close. One morning we got word that another big brand bookstore was opening in the city. Panicking and dismayed, most of the staff prophesied that we would be undercut and unemployed in a month. By the time the manager came in, we had worked ourselves into a frenzy of hair-pulling, chest-beating and despair.

He wasn’t screaming, though. He was smiling. His view? This wasn’t a disaster. This was a chance to , to borrow a poker term, “grow the pot”. This is a great read, but I'm still terrible at poker.The pot was the amount of people who bought and read books in the city, and my boss believed that a big brand presence in the city would raise interest in reading and bookstores generally. The advertising they spent would trickle back to us in people hearing about books. If we continued to concentrate on doing what we did as well as we could, there was a good chance that this development – instead of killing the store – would create more readers in the city, which could only be a good for us.

Over-optimistic? We thought so, but he was right. We stayed the course and the shop didn’t close – the pot grew. Now, reading about the upcoming release of the iPad and discussion of electronic publishing, I am reminded of that confused morning in the store. While people alternate between hailing e-books and the iPad as our saviour from tyranny of paper or the death knell of literature, but seeing the market for e-publishing and paper publishing as a static and self-cannibalising sphere, to me, is not the best way of looking at it.

Are we really looking at the death of books? Or are we looking at a profound shift in the way publishing works, and a bigger pot overall? Nielson Book, which collects and aggregates English language book data from publishers in 70 countries, is cautiously positive. Despite the rumblings of a possible recession in 2009, the number of books sold in Australia grew by 5.8%. The number of new books published in the UK in 2009 was the highest within the last 15 years. According to Nielson Book, the increases “can be accounted for in part by growth in print-on-demand (POD) and digital product, which we expect to continue to increase in the future.”

And across the pond, according to the Association of American Publishers (AAP) total book sales in the United States, in 2009 book sales fell 1.8%; but e-book sales rose by 176.6%. Overall, book sales have been steadily climbing since 2003. Books are (to most people, booklovers like me aside) a discretionary purchase; apparently you don’t need them. So, in a year in America where payrolls fell 6% and unemployment doubled, book sales did pretty well. The pot may be splitting, but it’s also getting bigger.

I’m not going to go into the in’s and out’s of the iPad and e-publishing in depth. That’s already covered by Joel over on The Smell of Books, who discusses the various issues with a depth of knowledge that I don’t have (honestly, my main technical concern with the Kindles, iPad etc is “will they fit in my handbag?”). But, technical issues aside (if it does fit in my handbag, can I get one that matches my handbag?), I’m looking forward to the future of books. I’m hoping that e-publishing will mean not just a bigger pot, but a more diverse and easily accessible one.

And a whole new load of people to share my love of books with.

The Star

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When: 6:30pm Tuesday 13th of April

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

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

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

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

Catch ya later,  George

Literary Mashups – the New Classic or High Culture Vandalism?

Arguably, the biggest trend to hit 2009 mass paperback fiction was vampires, fuelled by a little book you may or may not have heard of (Twilight).

The second biggest trend was the literary mashup.

Mashups have been around for a while, employed in the music business as a song or a composition which blends two or more other songs. It would appear that the controversy of mashups bends over the question of originality, but so far they hold up under copyright laws as a transformation of the original, and thus original in its own right.

In March of 2009, a book titled Pride and Prejudice and Zombies slobbered its way onto the scene, impressing upon the reading public the idea that Austen’s famous and much-loved gentility prose could be ‘zombified’. The story begins much the same as the original text, except that while Mrs Bennett endeavours to marry off her daughters, Mr Bennett goes about teaching the girls the art of martial defence. The gaggle of ladies still attend the ball, yet amidst the social interactions a zombie attack ensues and the women slap about like petticoat-ed Charlie’s Angels, hacking away and sloshing the floor with zombie limbs and other delicious bits. And so on and so forth.

Author Seth Grahame-Smith (in collaboration with Jane Austen – ha!) said at the time:

“You have this fiercely independent heroine, you have this dashing heroic gentleman, you have a militia camped out for seemingly no reason whatsoever nearby, and people are always walking here and there and taking carriage rides here and there…It was just ripe for gore and senseless violence.”

By no means an Austen purist, I was drawn in by the hype. I read the text, but was thoroughly perplexed by the message behind the book (if there was one). To my knowledge Pride and Prejudice and Zombies never purported to be fine literature, but I must admit I felt a little uneasy, and did I only imagine the ground shook for a moment, in response to a certain someone rolling over in their grave?

Since then, the bloodlust for monster mashups has only increased. Austen appears to be the current favourite, with the release of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and Mr Darcy, Vampyre. Louisa M. Alcott has since had the pleasure of werewolves invading her classic, Little Women, and Android Karenina is rumoured to be released on the 100th anniversary of Tolstoy’s death.

Sadly, Seth Grahame-Green couldn’t reprise his role of author for the brand-spanking-new prequel to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, as he had his hands up to the elbows in Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. And no, I’m not kidding.

So what do you think? Is it blasphemy, or does it encourage more people to read classic literature? Reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies didn’t inspire me to pick up the next mashup I came across, but for my one voice of nonchalance there are probably one hundred voices of praise.

SOMEONE must be laughing…

Is it the readers, giggling over lines that shouldn’t be taken so seriously?

And the publisher, skipping all the way to the bank?

Or is it one entirely more sinister, horns throbbing and forked tail twitching; cloven hooves trampling delighted over a pile of freshly-sold literary souls?

Foz Meadows and the Land of the Published

Gotta love blog titles that accidentally come out sounding like Harry Potter books… Moving on! Today, we play host to Foz Meadows, whose debut novel, Solace & Grief was recently released. It’s a fantasy novel set in Sydney – it’ll do for the Sydney CBD what Platform 9 3/4 did for London’s King’s Cross Station (what’s with all the Harry Potter references this morning?!). Let’s just say, you’ll never look at Town Hall the same way ever again…

The first foray into the Land of the Published Author

It’s pretty exciting that people are now able to read Solace & Grief. If I’m honest, though, it’s also a little terrifying. Here’s a story that I’ve sweated over, that has two planned volumes yet to come, and which constitutes my first foray into the Land of the Published Author. How could I not be nervous? The fact that I believe in the story and love my characters doesn’t mean that everyone else will. It’s a bit like the feeling I get whenever I walk through a pair of those anti-shoplifting machines: even though I know I’m not breaking any rules, part of me still tenses up, worried that the alarm will go off anyway.

With the book on shelves, I’m finally starting to realise that this is real. Back when I was dancing the submission-rejection tango, it felt like all my favourite authors were at a party I hadn’t been invited to, but was desperate to attend. It’s something I blogged about late last year, well after I’d signed the contract, but still during the editing process, and months before I ever held a copy of the book. To a certain extent, it’s how I still feel, even though my metaphoric status at the party has changed: instead of snooping around the kitchen, I’m clutching a rumpled invitation, laying out a dress to wear and giddily endeavouring not to fall over in a pair of unfamiliar heels. Here is the paradox of determination: I’ve spent so long dreaming about this point in my life and struggling to reach it that, now the moment is upon me, I can’t quite grasp it. When I imagine the post-publication life, it feels like I’m sixteen again, my head on a desk as I doze through class – and then I realise I’m not, and it isn’t, and the book thing is actually happening.

All of a sudden, something that used only to matter to me now involves the opinions of other people. Will they like Solace, my brave vampire girl with the cynical sense of humour? Have I done justice to Sydney – will any readers walk it in their mind’s eye, or have I made it an unfamiliar place? Are the things I intended as funny actually funny? It’s like starting a new school all over again, waiting for the hive-mind to make itself up. But despite my nerves, my worries and general tendency to babble at inappropriate moments, I wouldn’t miss a minute of this. I’m proud of Solace & Grief, and I cannot wait to see where being an author takes me.

Which brings me to the story itself. I try not to quote the blurb if I can possibly avoid it, but then, it’s difficult to know what to say without spoiling things while still giving a reasonable hint of what’s to come. So: there is a girl who has grown up with secrets. She has enemies, but also manages to find some friends. There is drinking, and mischief, and probably a few bad decisions, and at least one attempt to catch an ibis. There are dreams that might be more than dreams, and coincidences that might be more than coincidence. There is a riddle-song, and laughter, and loss. And, as always, there are questions. They might not always be answered prettily, of course, but still they raise their heads, like jasmine flowers twisting towards the moon.

That’s Solace & Grief, or part of it. And if you should choose to give it a try, I hope you don’t find it to be entirely full of suck.

– Foz Meadows

New bloggers appointed at Boomerang Books

Boomerang Books has appointed seven new bloggers to its book content team after receiving over 90 applications from eager writers.

‘The standard of applications received was quite amazing and we found it very difficult to narrow the field down to a manageable shortlist’, said Clayton Wehner, Managing Director and co-owner of Boomerang Books.

‘It was even harder to settle on the final seven bloggers from a shortlist of about thirty.  In fact, we originally set out to appoint only five bloggers, but we couldn’t split a couple of the applicants.  It took us several weeks of deliberation to arrive at the final seven’.

‘What’s most impressive is the fact that the positions were only advertised via social media mechanisms and, in particular, Twitter.  The writing community is a close-knit one and news of the positions spread like wildfire through ‘re-tweeting’.  We were inundated with applications and we certainly didn’t expect to receive so many’.

The bloggers have already starting producing their own themed blogs on the Boomerang Books website:

The Book Burglar. Brisbane-based Fiona Crawford is a freelance writer, editor, blogger, proofreader, and voracious reader. She is also (unfairly) known as the Book Burglar due to her penchant for buying family members—then permanently borrowing—books she wants to read herself.  Fiona’s blog revolves around Australian books (mostly ‘lifted’ from friends’ bookshelves).

Kid’s Book Capers. Melburnian Dee White is the award-winning children’s and YA author of Hope for Hanna, A Duel of Words, Letters to Leonardo and Harry’s Goldfield Adventure. Her blog explores great children’s books and the people who create them.

Poisoned Apples and Smoking Caterpillars. Aimee Burton is a Canberra-based lawyer-in-training who still dreams of befriending unicorns. Her blog is her escape from reality, and hopefully it will inspire her to finish writing that fantasy trilogy she’s always promising her friends is “almost halfway” done.

Read up on it. Sadhbh Warren is a freelance writer and proud booklover. Her name is pronounced Sive – like five – an Irish name, easier to say than spell.  She lives in Sydney, writing travel and humour articles, and is always on the lookout for a great new book.

Literary Clutter. Bookish bloggings from the cluttered mind and bookshelf of Melbourne author, George Ivanoff. George’s current teen novel is the computer-game inspired Gamers’ Quest.

Perpetually Adolescent. Sydney-based blogger William Kostakis (who doubles as Boomerang Books’ brand manager) is an award-winning, twenty-year-old young adult fiction author. His debut title, Loathing Lola, was released in 2008.   His blog deals with all things YA.

The Smell of Books. Sydney-based writer and editor Joel Blacklock is Boomerang Books’ new tech blogger. He’s passionate about the possibilities Web 2.0, social media and ebooks open up for authors, publishers, booksellers and the whole book industry.

The appointment of the seven bloggers is part of Boomerang Books’ ongoing content development strategy.

‘Content is king on the web and we’re focused on creating something that is more than just a standard e-commerce website.  We want to become Australia’s favourite destination for book lovers – not just a place where people go to buy books.  We’re committed to producing quality, thought-provoking content and instilling a sense of community for our members and visitors.’

‘We’re really happy with our new group of bloggers.  We’ve got a good spread of themes and we’ve got representation across Australia.  All of the bloggers were champing at the bit to publish their first blog posts and the quality of the early articles has been fantastic’.

Boomerang Books’ new blogs can be found online at

Who’s to Blame?

I was going to spend this post systematically going through all of Louise Adler’s terrible arguments against ebooks in this weekend’s National Times, or perhaps manufacture some kind of conspiracy theory because the comments on her post were closed after only three hours … but I’ve decided I’ve done enough immature ranting and name calling when it comes to the anachronistic dinosaurs of the publishing industry.

Instead I’d like to focus on a point that Ms Adler raised that I think is quite valid. That is: the range of books available to ebook buyers in Australia. Adler was specifically referring to the Kindle’s range, but it can be almost guaranteed that the same problems will plague Apple’s iPad when it launches in Australia later this month.


The catalogue is insular and American. Its vast catalogue is composed of obscure backlists and out-of-copyright titles and a disturbingly comprehensive list of self-published authors. Despite the belated local release of the device, no Australian titles are available in the Kindle “store”.

Aside from the fact that Adler is technically incorrect here (there are plenty of Australian titles available in the Kindle store), her frustration is understandable when you compare the Australian offering (less than 300,000 titles, a big chunk of which are out of copyright) with the fully fledged US Kindle Store (of over 450,000 titles). So who’s to blame for this situation?

I’ve read a lot of Australian commentary on the topic, and people (especially anonymous blog commenters) really like to say ‘they’. You know what I mean. ‘They really need to sort this out before they lose customers’. The slightly more informed split their contempt between Amazon and Australian publishers. Says one commenter on the tech blog, Gizmodo, ‘Amazon wants everyone to buy ebooks from them, so it’s obviously the publishers that are causing the problem.’ And another, responding to the same article: ‘Amazon does need to drag its rear into being global if it wants happy customers.’

Jasper Jones, by the Australian author Craig Silvey, is not available from the Australian Kindle store, nor the UK or       US store. It is, for some reason though, available in France. And on Boomerang     in paper.

The truth is that the situation has more than one side. Amazon can be given a pretty healthy portion of the blame for launching an ‘international’ Kindle without planning their relationships with local publishers first. Most of the publishing people I know in Australia knew about the release of the Kindle in Australia at the same time as the average punter who wanted to buy one. Amazon rushed in with half a Kindle store, and then sat back as Kindle buyers blamed publishing companies for the lack of content.

Publishers, on the other hand, do not get off scot free. In Australia, the importation of books by bookstores is restricted by parallel importation laws. Your local bookshop cannot buy a hundred crate-loads of Wilbur Smith books from the UK and then sell them on to you. However, there’s nothing stopping you from buying Assegai yourself from the US or the UK when you want it and at the cheapest price you can get it. This arrangement protects Australian publishers’ profits (the bulk of which comes from bookshops), and to some extent gives them the money to invest in publishing local Australian authors. It is territorial copyright backed up with legal import restrictions. However, this does not apply to ebooks. At all. There is currently no law stopping you from buying ebooks from international ebookstores, including the Kindle store. Nonetheless, almost all of these stores restrict people from buying books outside the copyright territory of their home country anyway.

Why? I don’t know for sure. It’s likely a combination of pressure from big international publishing corporations, and self-regulation to avoid legal import restrictions on ebooks. To an ordinary book buyer, however, this situation must seem absolutely absurd. Why should the format of the book (electronic or paper) determine whether or not you can legally buy it from Australia over the internet? The answer is that it shouldn’t. But it does. Doesn’t this go against the very idea of ebooks (and as Louise Adler so deftly put it – the ‘democratisation of knowledge’)? Probably, yes.

What this issue comes down to is the same question that fuelled the parallel importation debate that was getting publishers and booksellers all riled up last year. Do Australian publishers need protection, and if so, should they be protected? What is more important – cheap, convenient access to books, or the future viability of unique Australian stories (not to mention the jobs of editors, printers, typesetters and authors in this country)? There are no clear cut answers to these questions, but thinking about them is a lot more interesting than just shaking your fist at ‘them’ and pointing the finger.

INSPIRATION FROM A DROWNING DICTIONARY – Part Two in a profile of Children’s author, Lee Fox

Ginger McFlea Will Not Clean Her Teeth is the book featured in part two of our profile on Australian children’s author, Lee Fox.

Although the inspiration for parts of Ginger’s story also came from exposure to water, Lee Fox explains that it was quite a difference experience from what sparked Ten Little Hermit Crabs.

I  was holidaying in the Northern Territory. While I was writing the first draft for “Teeth”, the rhyming dictionary fell into the crocodile infested river and I had to fish it out with a stick. That’s how choppers became part of the story.

You have said that Ginger is your favourite out of all the characters you have created. Can you tell us why?

I love the look that Mitch Vane has given her. She is strong willed, smart, funny and creative. I like the way that Ginger is smart enough to realise that by doing the right thing she is not losing anything, that in fact she is gaining something important.

Can you tell us about Ginger’s Story?

Ginger McFee refuses to look after her teeth.  They are awful, smelly and full of cavities. It takes a clever doctor and the Tooth Fairy to turn Ginger’s attitude around.

What did you enjoy most about writing Ginger McFlea Will Not Clean Her Teeth?

Ginger McFlea is the twin of Jasper McFlea in Jasper McFlea Will Not Eat His Tea. I loved the opportunity to turn Ginger’s character around in this book. It was fun to show how characters and people have different dimensions, not always good and not always bad.

How did you come to create characters like Ginger?

I didn’t set out to become a children’s author, but it makes sense to me now that I’ve become one because I adore children and babies. I’m also very in touch with the adolescent who still lives within me. She gets a voice when I’m writing YA fiction.

Who will enjoy reading this book?

Children aged 3 to 8 will be able to relate to the main character Ginger, who is funny and creative, but likes things her own way. There’s also Ginger’s cute pet turtle, Keith and Dr Felicity Cheek, the funkiest dentist in the universe.

In this book there are plenty of fun rhymes and synonyms for teeth. And Mitch Vanes gorgeous illustrations are so much fun.

There are other books written about children and teeth. Is there something about Ginger McFlea Won’t Clean Her Teeth that sets it apart from other books on this topic?

It uses a lot of humour and one reviewer said recently that, “This book teaches, but doesn’t preach.”

How could teachers use this book in a classroom?

It’s a great way of getting kids to write about things they don’t like. It can be fun for kids to take that topic and stretch it out of all proportion.

Thanks so much for visiting Kids’ Book Capers, Lee and sharing how your write your books. It has been lovely talking with you.


Comfort reading

The post-Easter atmosphere in the office is pretty sullen. Email boxes are swollen like our chocolate-filled tummies and there’s plenty of work to be done, but no one wants to be back from their break.

Now that the hot cross buns are gone, the fruit bowl is a stern reminder of how much we let the diet slip over Easter. The bill for four days of lying-in and eating chocolate for breakfast (and lunch and dinner and as a late-night snack) has come through and people are clearly suffering from sugar hangovers and feeling remorse for gym visits not taken.

In the canteen, a colleague pokes at their stomach and pulls morosely at the bulge they find there. “I look like an Easter egg.”

“Ugh. Don’t even mention them.”

The days after Easter feel a bit dark in more ways than one. Unlike the Northern Hemisphere – where Easter usually means spring has sprung and the long balmy nights of summer are on the way – here in Australia we have a hour of evening light cruelly stolen from us. No wonder that it’s tempting to curl up with the leftover chocolate and refuse to come out until October.

But instead of curling up with comfort food this year, I’m curling up with a comfort book. When the nights start to draw in, I love to curl up with my comfort books – it’s catching up with an old friend. I first read Gerald Durrell’s sun-drenched and chaotic account of his childhood in Corfu, My Family and Other Animals, when I was in my teens and I alternate between blaming it and thanking it for sparking my life-long interest in travel and zoology.

Likewise, Peter Moore’s travelogue  The Full Montezuma is at least partly to blame for the fact that I will be spending two months later this year in Central America with my backpack and well-thumbed copy of the book.  Bill Bryson’s travel books have all been read so much their spines are split and anything by the humourous fantasy writer (or should that be fantastic satirist?) Terry Pratchett is lucky to still have a cover. This is the time of year when I dig out a few old favourites and, once again, enjoy and get inspired by them.

Some of my friends agree with me. One reaches for the Austen when she is feeling down, and another simply can’t get enough of Lord of the Rings. Others think I’m mad to waste time re-reading when there are simply so many other shiny new titles out there. But now that the nights are getting longer, I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with some old friends.

So, this Autumn will you be joining me in your comfy chair with a comfort book, and if so, which one?

USER REVIEW WINNER: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies  by Jane Austen (via Seth Grahame-Smith)
Reviewed by HelenphH

This was recommended to me by someone who is a huge fan of Jane Austen. Another recommendation came from someone who HATES Jane Austen and felt that Grahame-Smith’s additions fully redeemed Austen’s own efforts. Taking a middle view on Austen’s work, I also thoroughly enjoyed this book, so it seems safe to say it would be appreciated by all.

Imagine the formality and rigidity of life in Regency, England, centred around a family consisting of a silly and fussy mother, a sensible but down-trodden father and their five unmarried daughters – just as Austen created them. But now imagine those same young ladies were employed by the government to help wipe out the plague of zombies whose habits included eating brains and attacking all and sundry. Imagine the Bennett girls all taking concealed ankle daggers to Mr Bingley’s ball and you can see that this is a very clever and funny version of the original.

It helps to have some knowledge of Austen’s work to fully appreciate the book, but if you’ve watched one of the television or movie versions that is sufficient to put this in context. I must admit to visualising Dame Judi Dench reprising her role as Lady Catherine, now renowned for killing ninety zombies with only a wet envelope. I see her with elegant gown tucked into her waistband, slicing into zombies left and right with that indomitable look she does so well.

Great fun.

A big thanks to the 100 members who submitted reviews – keep reviewing your favourite books at for your chance to win! For being this month’s winner, HelenphH has won $50 to spend in Boomerang Bucks.

Clutter, clutter and more clutter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catch ya later,  George

Attention Patrick Ness Fans: April Book Giveaway

Ness-philes, get excited – this month, each of our Boomerang Books Members are in the running to win a signed copy of 2008 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize Winner’s latest, and a signed preview of his upcoming trilogy-ender. The full prize list includes:

Not a member? Sign up today.


Are you on Facebook? Don’t forget to join our Group for your chance to this prize pack that includes:

A big thanks to our friends at Celapene Press, Ford St, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, Pan Macmillan for supporting our giveaways this month. and Walker Books.


You have until Friday 9 April to enter a special Patrick Ness competition. We’re giving away… an extract. While it doesn’t sound like much, this is actually a special preview of Ness’ yet-to-be-released Monsters of Men, and it’s signed! All you have to do is email me, and in 20 words or less, tell me why you should be the lucky Patrick Ness fan that gets it.


Those that have been reading the blog know how enamoured I was with the Gone book trailer, well, later in the month, we’ll be giving 10 copies away to Boomerang loyalists, so keep your eyes peeled for details.

THE CALL OF THE HERMIT CRAB – Part One in a profile of Children’s author, Lee Fox

Australian children’s author, Lee Fox was raised in a home where there were no books, but she has always loved reading and writing. She says that in 2000, after many years of asking herself what she was going to be when she grew up, she finally decided to have a go at writing.

Over the next two posts she’s going to be sharing with us how she became a published author, and how she creates her books for children.

You were often the sole parent of five children, was it a difficult decision choosing to become a writer?

After I decided that writing was my purpose in life, I summoned the courage to go for it. I set about learning my craft and trying to gain a profile as a writer.

Did you do any formal studies?

I did a correspondence course and a number of short writing courses, and I enrolled in Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT.

I read stacks of books on writing, but most importantly, I wrote.

Congratulations on your book Ten Little Hermit Crabs being awarded a 2010 CBCA Notable Award. Can you tell us where the inspiration for this story came from?

A family holiday in Fiji a few years back. My daughter and I used to play with the hundreds of hermit crabs scuttling on the beach at sunset. When I relived the memories at home, a refrain started going through my head – Hush says the seashore, shh says the sea. I knew there was a new story about to emerge. I love that kind of inspiration.

What’s Ten Little Hermit Crabs about?

It’s a simple story for children aged 1-6 about ten quirky hermit crabs and their exciting day on the beach.

It’s a counting backwards story so on each spread one crab has an adventure and disappears (but not forever). There’s a happy reunion at the end of the book.

Why will kids like Ten Little Hermit Crabs ?

Kids like rhythm and repetition, and there are some great words like skedaddle, scuttle sprint and frolic for them to enjoy; as well as the lilting refrain that sparked the idea for the book. Then of course there are the great illustrations.

What do you love most about the illustrations?

It’s not that easy to give a hermit crab personality but Shane McG has done a fantastic job. He has captured their adventurous spirit and cuteness.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book.

I enjoyed finding a place for the refrain Hush says the seashore, shh says the sea. It was also a joy to write on a sea theme as it brought back many happy beach memories from my childhood, particularly when Shane started sending his beautiful illustrations through.

Ten Little Hermit Crabs is Lee Fox’s fourth out of six published books.

On Wednesday, Lee is coming back to Kid’s Book Capers to talk about Ginger McFlea Will Not Clean Her Teeth, and why Ginger McFlea is her favourite character, out of all the characters she has created.

Hope you can join us then.