I’m glad for books like Michael Cathcart’s The Water Dreamers. In recent years, history has been reinvigorated by taking new slants on old narratives. Here, Cathcart traces the familiar narrative of Australian history by concentrating on water, namely a lack of it, in a dry ‘silent’ continent. What this approach allows is a kind of environmental, as well as economic, history to unfold as the new colony rapaciously moves outward, subsuming indigenous communities in search of scarce water resources. This is contrasted with the indigenous husbanding of the land and its water, and the deep knowledge and often ingenious systems devised to use water in concert with the land, rather than against it. Overlaying this is the larger cultural picture of Australia as a hostile place, with an enormous silence at its heart. In the European mind, the land is under-utilised, waiting for the civilising touch of resource exploitation and development. The question that constantly came to mind while reading was ‘How far have we come?’. As recent history has shown and Cathcart suggests, the answer is not far. This is a fascinating history that fits nicely into the larger picture of Australia, while exploring some of the things we take for granted in our national psyche.
Last weekend, I was lucky enough to be a speaker at the NSW Writers’ Centre’s 4th Annual Kids and YA Festival, able to rub shoulders and exchange quips with authors infinitely more famous than I. With all the events leading up to the main Saturday, I was bumping into authors at a frequency I’m not quite used to. One of those authors was Deborah Abela. I took the seventh time I ran into her in as many days as sign enough to pull her aside for a quick interview.
For those that don’t know, Deborah is the author of, among other things, the wildly successful Max Remy series, which only recently came to a close. Not long ago, she was being asked, “What’s next?” Well, now, she’s released it – a fun, quirky novel whose jacket illustration I’m secretly insanely jealous of, The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen. I sat down with Deborah to discuss books past, present and future.
The Max Remy series spawned ten books… How hard was it to say goodbye to the franchise?
I knew the series was going to end at Max Remy Part 10: The Final Curtain. I had great fun writing it, but found that over the next few weeks, I felt despondent and irritable and wanted to crawl into corners to sleep or cry. Not being like this usually, I eventually worked out that I was grieving for my characters, especially Max and Linden, my two young superspies I’d sent all over the world to save it from multiple bad guys. I’m okay now, though.
Which of the characters in the Max Remy universe was your favourite?
Max will always have a special place in my heart, because the idea for the series came from this young feisty but clumsy girl spy who is the hero of each book, but her cute spy partner Linden, who is calm, smart and funny, is my fav. I’ve had letters from readers wanting to be his girlfriend, so I guess other people feel like I do.
In a sentence, pitch your new book, The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen.
Aurelie Bonhoffen adores living on a seaside pier amusement park with her family, but on her twelfth birthday, she discovers that some of them are ghosts.
What’s the hardest thing about writing for children?
I love writing for kids! Apart from trying to find enough time to write, one of the hardest parts is getting the tone of the book right and finding the voices of the characters. This can be very fast as with my soccer legend, Jasper Zammit, but sometimes, as with Aurelie in The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen, it can take its good sweet time.
What’s next for Deb Abela? Another Aurelie Book?
At the moment I am working on a book where a major city has flooded. Most people managed to escape but a group of kids were left behind and have to find new ways to survive in this world of floating building tops. There are sea monsters, flying machines and evil harbour lords. Its been soggy but lots of fun.
Sounds great. Of your books – which one has the best opening line?
I like the opening line from The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen:
The girl lay in her coffin with a faint smile on her powder-white face.
Its a quirky, comic novel by the way.
Who would you say were (and are) your biggest influences?
Children’s authors, books and the kids themselves. More and more I love hearing authors speak. There is so much to learn about writing. I also love getting kids excited about books by speaking to them during author visits and at festivals. Of course, I love reading and always get excited by a well-written, well-told kids story.
If you could claim any other writer’s work as your own, whose would it be?
I think, perhaps in a previous life, I was Norman Hunter who wrote the Professor Branestawm book about a wacky, inventive professor whose inventions often went terribly wrong. Either that or we’re related. I loved those books as a kid.
The last Australian book you read?
The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks. Very funny, twisted and seriously subversive as far as all those other vampire books go.
What is the most valuable piece of advice you were never told?
The more you write sometimes the harder it gets, but oh how sweet it is when it all clicks into place. I was also never told how wonderful and generous and supportive kids’ book writers are… This has been an especially sweet discovery.
Was heightened awareness of water issues in Australia the spark for this book?
I starting thinking about this book in the early 1990s, long before the water crisis. I wanted to write a national history that focussed on a challenge which was common to all Australians. At the same time, I was preoccupied with two brilliant but very different books. The first was The Tyranny of the Distance in which Geoffrey Blainey showed how distance was the great challenge which had shaped both the pattern of Australian settlement and key Australian attitudes. I have tried to treat water in much the same way. The second book was Paul Carter’s elusive The Road to Botany Bay, which redefined the way historians think about exploration. In the 1990s, few people understood what I meant by ‘a history of water’. The subject sounded esoteric–as if I was writing a history of dirt. But today, water is the number-one challenge to our future–and everyone gets why it’s vital that we understand its history.
Is Australia still the ‘silent’ continent?
Colonial Australia was ‘the silent continent’ just as colonial Africa was ‘the dark continent’. The first colonists imagined that Australia was a brooding silent place covered by a vast and gloomy wood. Many of them thought of the Aborigines as a sort of shadow people who were living in a timeless limbo. These colonists believed that they were destined to bring Australia to life with the sounds of industry. They would sweep across the continent, cutting down trees and firing guns–shattering the silence and startling the continent into life. They would fill it with ‘the hum of industry’. But the continent had other plans. At its heart it remained stubbornly silent. The 19th-century explorers referred to this lethargy of the inland as a ‘death-like silence’. It was filled with foreboding. They experienced the inland as silent because it was dry. Today, I suspect that many of us experience the ‘silence’ of the outback as a spiritual experience. We think, not of death, but of eternity.
Do you think Australian history can be characterised as one of anxiety towards and alienation from the landscape?
By 1900, Australians were gripped by a fear that they have failed to occupy inland Australia.The symbol of this failure and disappointment was the vast salt lake, Lake Eyre. It was the withered remnant of the inland sea which ought to occupy the centre of Australia, but didn’t. Just as the whites had robbed the Aborigines, on the grounds that they never properly occupied the country, so the white feared that Asian hordes would descend and claim this still unoccupied land for themselves. Many whites believed that their sole hope of truly possessing this land lay in hydro-engineering. Through their own ingenuity, they would make the deserts bloom.
What can Australia learn from our history of mismanagement of scarce water resources?
For too long, white Australians thought of the bush and the outback as places where nature was absent or weird. They regarded engineering, not as a way of enhancing nature, but of compensating for the great void at the heart of Australia. The challenge today is to understand how nature and engineering can work together to produce a water system that is productive, sustainable and which nourishes the soul. But we should also celebrate the water systems which we have managed well. The most outstanding of these is the water supply for Melbourne. The vast closed catchments in the ranges northeast of the city have been managed by government authorities for over 100 years. The result is an affordable and reliable supply of the best urban water in the world.
What are your broader hopes for The Water Dreamers?
I have writtenThe Water Dreamers as book which speaks to all Australians. I hope that it challenges and changes the way we think about our past, and about who we are.
What are you working on next?
I have recently finished a TV documentary about the runaway convict William Buckley who lived with an Aboriginal tribe called the Wathaurong for over 30 years. I am now writing a book about him.
James Roy has more awards under his belt than you can count. Ben Beaton asks him about Edsel Grizzler: Voyage to Verdada, the first book in a new three-part series.
Where did the concept of Edsel Grizzler: Voyage to Verdada and all that it entails come from?
The first part of the story had been rattling around in my head for over 10 years– the idea of a quirky boy who discovers a mysterious inter-dimensional pod/portal. But that was as far as the story went. Then, in my usual way, I simply forced myself to launch into the story and ‘follow my nose’. What I ended up with was something of a classic three-act structure, but ironically, the first act, despite being set in the real world, felt too surreal, almost cartoonish. Whereas Verdada was a rather more austere, soulless kind of place, despite its pretense of being ‘A Place of Forever Fun’. So I had to make Edsel a rather more sad, lonely kind of individual than he’d originally been. I also think there’s a bit of a fable going on, speaking to this idea of reality and artificiality. There might even be a touch of humanism–I find the idea of people disregarding the wonder and joy of being in the present while they look for something better, quite sad. I don’t think life is a dress rehearsal.
Your hero Edsel Grizzler faces a difficult choice, and suffers the consequences. What messages are there for readers about signing up for a ‘sure thing’ before reading the fine print?
I find the word ‘message’ suggestive of some kind of agenda, which young readers despise. Having said that, if a kid were to read my book and, as a result, begin to think about how they can find joy in the everyday, that wouldn’t be a bad thing.
Voyage to Verdada sits comfortably alongside Alice in Wonderland, or even The Wizard of Oz, where the simple pleasures of home outweigh the excitement of the discovered world. Were you thinking of the ‘stranger in a strange land’ scenario when you wrote the novel?
I think that all good stories put characters in different ‘worlds’. Harry Potter and the Narnia books are obvious examples. But in some ways, ‘realistic’ books deal with this idea as well. One of my favourite books is Josh, by Ivan Southall, which is about a city kid who ends up in a country town where his pedigree dictates that he should fit in, but he doesn’t. But if I were looking for a real link to the ‘stranger in a strange land’ scenario, I’d probably look at the nine years I spent in PNG and Fiji as a missionary kid. Perhaps at some subconscious level I’m exploring my own questions of belonging. That’s what writers do, isn’t it?
What do you think teens are looking for from a good book in this digital age?
I don’t believe that what young people want from their entertainment has changed all that much. Basically a good story with strong, believable characters will do it every time. What has changed a little is how we access that story. The Sunday night TV movie has declined in popularity, because we now prefer to buy the DVD of a show we really like and watch several episodes in a row, rather than sitting down to watch it at a prescribed weekly time, interrupted by ad breaks. In the digital age the method of getting the story–audio book, digital reader, ebook, graphic novel, or conventional novel–is somewhat secondary to our universal desire for a strong story. We love stories. It’s actually very simple.
What are you working on next?
I’m really excited to be putting together some of the planning for City, a follow-up to Town, which was a collection of linked short stories I find short stories both challenging and liberating. And when City is done, it’ll be time to return to Edsel. I can’t wait..
As an author, I’m extremely interested in seeing how publishers use the Internet to promote books for children (and obviously, I’m making notes on what works and what doesn’t). Lots of publishers have tried to tackle Youtube trailers, and honestly, a lot of them involve a swirling book cover and a really horrible voiceover. After watching them, I feel less inclined to hunt down the book. That said, someone recently pointed me in the direction of the new Nit Boy trailer, and it is, hands down, the best original trailer for a book I’ve ever seen. It’s fun, it’s 3D. So, I tapped Tristan Bancks on the shoulder and invited him around to talk about how the trailer was put together.
Click here to visit his official site
I write quite visually. I see a movie unravelling in my head as I type, so I think book trailers are an amazing way to bring that motion picture alive for the audience.
The two books in the series, Lift Off and Bug Out tell the story of blood brothers – Lewis, a kid with the worst case of nits in world history, and Ned, a nit that lives on Lewis’s head. They’re a great way to have a laugh about our favourite blood-sucking mini-beasts. And there’s a nit quiz in the back of each book.
With the trailer I wanted to build on the work I’d done creating trailers for my Mac Slater, Coolhunter series.
I showed the animator, Peter Leary, the books’ amazing illustrations by Heath McKenzie.
I then wrote a script. The animator cut the script down, did a rough animatic (still pictures with a voiceover) and he began building the 3D characters (‘wire’ frames in a computer).
I gave Peter feedback on the characters and he created a rough version of the trailer and then a final. I was amazed by how much of the animation comes together in the final render. And, when it was done, it was even better than what I’d seen in my mind’s eye as I wrote the books.
A producer has now optioned the Nit Boy books for television and my next visual-literary adventure will be a live-action trailer for the US release of the first Mac Slater book in April next year. Wish me luck!
Another month, another giveaway. July’s is Ashes-tinged and filled to the brim for cricket fans and avid readers alike, so be sure to register HERE for your chance to win copies of:
Cricket Kings by William McInnes SIGNED
Step into the lives of a team of regular middle-aged men who meet each week to play cricket in their local park. With these characters William will make us laugh and cry. And never again will we think that someone is just a regular bloke – everyone can be a king or a queen in their own suburb.
Glenn McGrath: Line and Strength by Glen McGrath SIGNED
From working the land in Narromine to winning cricket’s World Cup three times, Glenn McGrath has always faced life with fierce determination and an unerring will to succeed despite the odds. Now, following his retirement from international cricket, McGrath shares the story of his life – in cricket and off the field.
The Cricket War by Gideon Haigh SIGNED
It was the end of cricket as we knew it – and the beginning of cricket as we know it. In May 1977, the cricket world woke to discover that a businessman called Kerry Packer had signed 35 elite international players for his own televised World Series Cricket. The Cricket War is the definitive account of the split that changed the game on the field and on the screen. In helmets, under lights, with white balls, and in coloured clothes, the outlaw armies of Ian Chappell, Toney Greig and Clive Lloyd fought a daily battle of survival. In boardrooms and courtrooms Packer and cricket’s rulers fought a bitter war of nerves. A compelling account of the top-class sporting life, The Cricket War also gives a unique insight into the motives and methods of Australia’s richest man.
The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas SIGNED
A novel about the relationships between children and adults, and the new Australian multicultural middle-class from the controversial cult author of Loaded and Dead Europe.
Starting An Online Business For Dummies by Melissa Norfolk
Turn your dreams into profitable reality with this straightforward guide to setting up and running an online business. Including strategies to help you identify your market, set up a website and promote your business online.
Just Macbeth by Andy Griffiths
Take one Shakespearean tragedy: Macbeth, add Andy, Danny and Lisa the Just trio, whose madcap exploits have already delighted hundreds of thousands of readers for the last ten years. Mix them all together to create one of the most hilarious, most dramatic, moving stories of love, Whizz Fizz, witches, murder and madness. Ages 9+.
Brief Encounters: Literary travellers in Australia 1836-1939 by Susannah Fullerton
Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, countless distinguished writers made the long and arduous voyage across the seas to Australia. They came on lecture tours and to make money, to sort out difficult children sent here to be out of the way for health, for science, to escape demanding spouses back home, or simply to satisfy a sense of adventure. In 1890, for example, Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife, Fanny, arrived at Circular Quay after a dramatic sea voyage only to be refused entry at the Victoria, one of Sydney’s most elegant hotels. Stevenson threw a tantrum, but was forced to go to a cheaper, less fussy establishment. Next day, the Victoria’s manager, recognising the famous author from a picture in the paper, rushed to find Stevenson and beg him to return. He did not. In Brief Encounters, Susannah Fullerton examines a diverse array of writers, including Charles Darwin, Rudyard Kipling, Stevenson, Anthony Trollope, Mark Twain, Arthur Conan Doyle, DH Lawrence, Joseph Conrad, HG Wells, Agatha Christie and Jack London, to discover what they did when they got here, what their opinion was of Australia and Australians, how the public and media reacted to them, and how their future works were shaped or influenced by this country.
Good Night & God Bless: Volume One by Trish Clark
This is the modern traveller’s bible. Travellers and pilgrims seeking a unique experience can now uncover the ancient secrets of convents and monasteries around Europe. We reveal these atmospheric and affordable places that accommodate tourists or those pursuing a pilgrimage or spiritual retreat. Convents, monasteries and abbeys have always been places which generously welcome weary travellers. That tradition continues today and Goodnight & God Bless takes you on a tour of religious hideaways offering tourist and pilgrimage accommodation throughout Europe. Suitable for the traveller, the pious and the curious alike, this user-friendly travel guide provides invaluable information, travel tit-bits and anecdotes against a fascinating backdrop of history and religion.
Nemesis and the Fairy of Pure Heart by Ashley Du Toit SIGNED
Enchanted by Bella, the Fairy of Pure Heart, Prince Arthur follows her into the immortal world. Angered by this, the powerful dragon Nemesis captures Arthur. To rescue her prince, Bella must complete the Great Dragon’s Hunt, and collect five magical tokens. As Bella and her butterfly friend Teague carry out her quest, they meet many mystical creatures, including a witch and a werewolf, elfins and leprechauns, and two very forgetful goblins.
A big thanks to our friends at Allen and Unwin, Pan Macmillan, Hachette, Random House, Melbourne University Press, John Wiley & Sons, Dragon Publishing and Paratus Press for supporting our monthly giveaway.
To go into the draw to win this month’s prize, complete the entry form HERE. Entries close 31 July, 2009. Don’t forget, it’s a monthly giveaway, so be sure to favourite that link and keep visiting every month. Please note, entrants will be automatically subscribed to our fortnightly Boomerang Books Bulletin e-newsletter.
… A bonus for our Facebook Friends
Need an incentive to join one of Australia’s largest book group on Facebook? Well, we have a great pack of books to give away to one of our Facebook Group members this month, which includes copies of Nemesis and the Fairy of Pure Heart by Ashley Du Toit (SIGNED), Mascot Madness! by Andy Griffiths and Good Night & God Bless: Volume One by Trish Clark.
The Priestess and the Slave by Jenny Blackford is a small yet intense glimpse of what life must have been like 7,000 years ago in Ancient Greece. It tells the story of two women – the priestess and slave of the title – who never meet each other, yet whose tales reflect and enrich each other.
Thrasulla is a Pythia, one of three priestesses presiding over the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi. She is a witness to the bribery of one of the other priestesses by the mad king of Sparta, Kleomenes, and its terrible aftermath. As a Pythia, Thrasulla is one of the few women to hold any power or prestige in a male-dominated world.
Her story is contrasted with that of Harmonia, a slave, who must nurse the members of the family who own her through the dreadful plague of Athens, despite her own fears for herself and her twin sister.
Replete with evocative details of food and clothing and manners and morals, The Priestess and the Slave is simply and elegantly told, with the clear ring of truth that comes from absolute control over one’s material. Jenny Blackford won a First Class Honours degree in Classics, so she really knows this world well and, with this novel, reveals it to us.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Kate Forsyth is the internationally bestselling author of numerous books for children and adults. Her latest release is The Puzzle Ring. In it, thirteen-year-old Hannah discovers her family was cursed long ago. The only way to break the curse is to find the four lost quarters of the mysterious puzzle ring… To do this, Hannah must go back in time to the last tumultuous days of Mary, Queen of Scots, a time when witches were burnt, queens were betrayed and wild magic still stalked the land… Check out our interview with Kate here.
To celebrate the release of Jasper Jones, Boomerang Books is teaming up with Allen and Unwin to give three lucky blog readers the chance to win a copy of the novel. Now, the characters of Jasper Jones pose each other ‘would you rather this or that’ hypothetical situations (one of the reader favourites is “which could you rather live your life with, penises for fingers or a hat on your head made of poisonous spiders?”). To enter this Boomerang Books Blog-exclusive competition, all you have to do is email me your very own hypothetical – it’s that simple. My favourite three before next e-newsletter will win a copy of Craig Silvey’s Jasper Jones.
Beneath the Dark Ice – pitch it in one sentence.
Taught adventure thriller with scares a plenty!
The best action/thrillers are those with more than just explosions, those that have depth, an engagement with mythology. In Beneath the Dark Ice, you play with legends like the Kraken and Atlantis, and draw on elements of Mayan and Olmec archaeology. Were these things you were interested in prior to writing the novel, or did you simply discover them during the writing process?
That’s easy – both! I was brought up on a diet of horror-thrillers and science fiction and was happiest reading or watching shows about (all cultures’) myths and legends. Even today small facts that add colour to our history jump out at me. Did you know they recently found evidence of a 16th century vampire in Venice? Buried with a paving stone jammed in her jaws to stop her coming back from the grave? Or in New Mexico, there is evidence that dinosaurs survived for nearly a million years after they became extinct everywhere else – our real Lost Valley. These little things are still ‘wow’ moments for me and add to a collection of myths and mysteries I keep with me in an ideas book.
But discovery is important as well. The (novel) writing process directs you to creating or obtaining believable details. Your readers wouldn’t let you get away with being lazy in the descriptive or exposition process… and you don’t need to be. Research has been made easier for today’s author via the internet. It brings so much detail to you from enthusiasts, experts, and other authors, keeping your mind working the possibilities and expanding on your own knowledge.
Bottom line is, I started with a basic knowledge skeleton and once I started digging, I kept uncovering more and more flesh for the bones.
I read somewhere that your writing impulse developed out of your habit of storytelling to your son, Alex – would you say your book’s target audience is restricted to young males?
You could say the creative process started with storytelling to Alex. I’d either make up a story or read him a book, and then halfway through I’d stop and say, “What do you think happens then?” We’d have fun describing all sorts of different endings. Even though Alex is now 11, I wouldn’t let him read Beneath the Dark Ice – way too many scary scenes. I wrote the book for an audience of people who enjoyed adventure thrillers, but also like some terror included. There was no real target demographic in mind.
Who would you say were your biggest influences?
Without doubt Graham Masterton, Stephen King and Dean Koontz. And the classic sci-fi writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jules Verne and Pierre Boulle.
What can you tell us about your next release, Return of the Prophet?
You actually caught me in the middle of its final editing. The 2nd book also contains Captain Alex Hunter, and this time he is sent on a mission to the Middle East. A significant radiation spike leads the US government to believe the Iranians are performing subsurface nuclear test detonations. What they find is that they have inadvertently created a miniature black hole. While they try and perfect the technology to continue to create these Dark Events they accidently open a doorway – a portal through which ‘something’ slips through. Alex has to stop the creation of the black holes before they devour the Earth and also confront the thing out in the desert. Just as much fun as the first book, and just as thrilling and frightening!
There have been comparisons made between you and other Pan Macmillan blockbuster action authors, most notably, Matthew Reilly. How do you feel you differentiate yourself from what Matthew, and others, offer in the genre?
I like to think my books are more than just thrillers. Like the other thriller writers, my books are well researched with a high degree of technological realism, but there is also a terror element that I believe gives my readers some good heart stopping scares. The best description I have heard of my style was, Matthew Reilly, with teeth!
If you could rid the world of ONE book, which would it be?
Just one?! It’s a tough question because every book has merit – even if it’s only to serve as an example of how not to do some particular thing. But… if you asked me what book made my brain hurt, well, that would be during my study days. Try reading Valuing the Firm and Strategic Acquisitions without suffering a migraine and wishing for an immediate induced coma!
Last Australian book you read?
Hey, this is no kiss-up, but it was Loathing Lola. It was a lot of fun and I’ve managed to pinch heaps of ideas. Thanks William!
If you could claim any other authors work as your own, whose would it be?
Early Stephen King. What a spread of great ideas that guy had. Whatever he was drinking at the time, i wish i could buy some.
The token filler question: What is the most valuable piece of advice you were never told?
As a writer it would be to read across genres. Though, they tell you to write what you like to read, you should also read beyond just what you’re comfortable reading. You need to experience many different forms of style and type. Some guys just do humour, pathos, fear, anger and rage, etc much better than others.
Last thing – keep a look out for lucky breaks – they do happen!
Cameron Raynes’ The Last Protector is part of our Bumper June Book Giveaway, so, this week, instead of an interview, I decided to invite Cameron around to post a guest blog entry. Interviews are great, don’t get me wrong, but when I was on the publicity trail for my own book, I realised that with interviews, you can only really talk about what the interviewers want you to talk about. It was at the end of my publicity duties, about the time that I’d really gotten sick of people asking me about my age and why I’d chosen to write from a girl’s perspective, that I discovered guest blog entries. Guest blogging allowed me to talk about what I actually wanted to talk about, it was something I wasn’t all that used to, and something I really enjoyed.
So, here’s Cameron talking about whatever it is that he actually wants to talk about… 🙂
The story of the last Chief Protector of Aborigines has been with me, day and night, for the past eight years. Some parts of the journey were intense. In 2004, I was effectively banned by the South Australian Government from doing historical research, and this ban still stands today.
Constrained by the government’s use of legal professional privilege, I’m still not allowed to speak of some of the things I discovered in their archives. Parts of The Last Protector had to be written with this in mind and, in two or three passages, I had to write obliquely of what I knew. But my message will be clear enough. It’s this: in South Australia, at least until 1953, the government colluded with missions to remove or withhold Aboriginal children from their parents and, in doing so, acted illegally. The Last Protector is the first book in Australia to make and sustain such a claim.
The heroes in this book are the Aboriginal parents—the mothers and fathers—who wrote to the chief protector, time after time, calling for the return of their children. Some of those children were kept from their parents for years. Some of them never made it back.
Koonibba Mission, on the far west coast of South Australia, was particularly aggressive in its illegal withholding of Aboriginal children. One woman, Mrs King, wrote many letters to Penhall complaining about how the mission had separated her from her daughters. The letters are long, detailed and persuasive. She wrote:
All these years I live here, there is no Christian Love shown amongst the White people here. There is enough proof will be published one of these days, & I hope my words will come true.
Mrs King’s words did come true. Her words were published. Read them in The Last Protector.
The Last Protector by Cameron Raynes
The last protector presents a compelling argument that the South Australian government illegally took Aboriginal children from their parents during the years between 1939 and 1954. Adelaide historian Cameron Raynes draws on extensive archival records, the contents of which have never been available to the public before.
Excitement is ramping up for the upcoming NSW Writers’ Centre’s two-day event, the 4th Kids and YA Literature Festival, held July 4-5. The Festival’s bringing together some of the best Australian authors and illustrators, publishers, scriptwriters and industry advocates in what has been dubbed “a celebration of story and the special world of Children’s Literature”.
I was lucky enough to have been invited as a guest speaker, but honestly, I’m far more excited about the company I keep, which includes Melina Marchetta, Garth Nix, Kate Forsyth (check out our interview here), Libby Gleeson, James Roy (check out our exclusive interview here), and Ursula Dubosarsky.
It’s shaping up to be a dynamic weekend. The Saturday is the day for the traditional Festival goings-on, speeches and panels, while the Sunday is dedicated to workshops, industry consultations and manuscript assessments with some of the best in the writing community.
So, Sydneysiders, if you’d like to meet me and other (read: more important) figures in the Australian Children’s literary landscape, there’s more information here.
A friend passed this on, and as a children’s author whose novel was ignored by awards judges, I have to say that I agree with the idea that there is an element of elitism in kids’ lit judging despite exceedingly favourable reviews… That said, I’m sure I’d be singing a different tune if my book was garnering awards… What do YOU think about this story from ABC?
Plenty of disgruntled authors both in Australia and abroad argue that there’s an underlying philosophy of snobbery among judges of children’s literature awards. Part of the problem is that the top prizes tend to go to books children don’t necessarily want to read.
But is there anything wrong with judges focusing on the highbrow end of the market, or should popularity play a part in their decisions? A confidential report commissioned by the Children’s Book Council of Australia suggests the time might be right to overhaul Australia’s top children’s literature award.
Australian author of young adult fiction
Australian children’s author
Australian children’s author
Program Manager, Centre for Youth Literature, State Library of Victoria
American children’s book expert
Last week, I interviewed Craig Silvey, and this week, I thought, to keep the momentum going, I’d treat you all to an excerpt from Craig’s latest, Jasper Jones. To me, books (and films and TV programmes) fall into two distinct categories. Some, I merely consume. In other words: they’re not all that amazing. But others… when I put them down, I’m inspired. It’s like they’ve lit a spark in me and I’m compelled to write something fantastic. Their brilliance is almost contagious. I mean, sure, I’m a creative type, and someone may be affected by the same book in a different way, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are affecting.
Jasper Jones is one of those books. Powerful, well-written, engrossing. Here’s a sample taken from the book’s opening:
Jasper Jones has come to my window.
I don’t know why, but he has. Maybe he’s in trouble. Maybe he doesn’t have anywhere else to go.
Either way, he’s just frightened the living shit out of me.
This is the hottest summer I can remember, and the thick heat seems to seep in and keep in my sleepout. It’s like the earth’s core in here. The only relief comes from the cooler air that creeps in between the slim slats of my single window. It’s near impossible to sleep, so I’ve spent most of my nights reading by the light of my kerosene lamp.
Tonight was no different. And when Jasper Jones rapped my louvres abruptly with his knuckle and hissed my name, I leapt from my bed, spilling my copy of Pudd’nhead Wilson.
I knelt like a sprinter, alert and fearful.
‘Who is it?’
‘Charlie! Come out here!’
‘Who is it?’
‘Jasper. Jasper!’ and he pressed his face right up into the light.
His eyes green and wild. I squinted.
‘What? Really? What is it?’
‘I need your help. Just come out here and I’ll explain,’ he whispered.
‘Jesus Christ, Charlie! Just hurry up! Get out here.’
And so, he’s here.
Jasper Jones is at my window.
Shaken, I clamber onto the bed and remove the dusty slats of glass, piling them on my pillow. I quickly kick into a pair of jeans and blow out my lamp. As I squeeze headfirst out of the sleepout, something invisible tugs at my legs. This is the first time I’ve ever dared to sneak away from home. The thrill of this, coupled with the fact that Jasper Jones needs my help, already fills the moment with something portentous.
My exit from the window is a little like a foal being born. It’s a graceless and gangly drop, directly onto my mother’s gerbera bed. I emerge quickly and pretend it didn’t hurt.
It’s a full moon tonight, and very quiet. Neighbourhood dogs are probably too hot to bark their alarm. Jasper Jones is standing in the middle of our backyard. He shifts his feet from right to left as though the ground were smouldering.
Jasper is tall. He’s only a year older than me, but looks a lot more. He has a wiry body, but it’s defined. His shape and his muscles have already sorted themselves out. His hair is a scruff of rough tufts. It’s pretty clear he hacks at it himself.
Jasper Jones has outgrown his clothes. His button-up shirt is dirty and fit to burst, and his short pants are cut just past the knee. He wears no shoes. He looks like an island castaway.
He takes a step towards me. I take one back.
‘Okay. Are you ready?’
‘What? Ready for what?’
‘I tole you. I need your help, Charlie. Come on.’ His eyes are darting, his weight presses back.
I’m excited but afraid. I long to turn and wedge myself through the horse’s arse from which I’ve just fallen, to sit safe in the hot womb of my room. But this is Jasper Jones, and he has come to me.
Those who were reading the blog’s coverage of the 2009 Sydney Writers’ Festival know that I went to see Craig Silvey not once, but twice. The first time, I went at the request of e-newsletter subscriber, Jessica, who couldn’t make it to the Coming of Age session herself (click HERE for my thoughts on it). The second time I went to see Craig, however, I went as a fan. A fan of him, not of his work, I hadn’t gotten around to reading Jasper Jones in the twenty-four hours since I’d seen him last. He was one of those authors that seemed quietly confident on stage, who don’t resort to shamelessly plugging themselves by beginning each sentence with, “Well, I’m a successful author” (yes, I’ve heard authors say it), and he was great to watch.
Well, now having read Jasper Jones, I can say I’m a fan of both Craig the person, and Craig the author. That quiet, subtle vibrancy of his personality translates onto the page. It’s definitely worth a read, if just to see what all the fuss is about. Haven’t heard the fuss? Well, in 2005, Craig was named as one of The Sydney Morning Herald‘s Best Young Novelists. His debut, Rhubarb, was selected as the inaugural book for the ‘One Book’ series of events at the 2005 Perth International Arts Festival. He is, in short, a big deal.
I was lucky enough to have the chance to sit down with Craig earlier in the week for an interview. Okay, that’s a lie. Well, technically it’s true… we sat down, just not anywhere near each other (thanks to the joys of email). So, to continue the streak of exclusive author interviews here on the Boomerang Blog, I give you Craig Silvey…
Rhubarb was both a critical and commercial success – as you worked on it, did you ever anticipate that it would be received like it was?
Rhubarb exceeded my expectations by getting published in the first place. I was always aware of how difficult it is to get published, particularly without solicitation, so i felt very very grateful to have been given that opportunity. Everything that happened beyond that has been a real blessing. I’ve been very fortunate to have a wealth of support from a community of readers and industry peers, who have helped give Rhubarb such an amazing shelf life, which has meant, more than anything, I’ve been able to keep writing.
You mentioned at the Sydney Writers’ Festival that you were making notes on Rhubarb back when you were 16 – how long did it take you to write the first draft, and were there any significant changes that you made in the editing process?
When I started Rhubarb, I was so naive about the process that I thought I’d have it finished in a few months. I didnt write the last sentence for another three years – and I still have no idea what im doing. Rhubarb is actually a longer book for having been edited. There were a number of threads that needed more engagement and clarification, so it was more a process of fleshing out, rather than trimming the fat, which was my experience with Jasper Jones.
Speaking of Jasper Jones, how would you pitch it in one sentence?
A regional Southern Gothic Coming-Of-Age story about two boys with a secret, searching for the truth in a town that trades on myth.
What drew you to writing a “Southern Gothic”-style book set in Australia?
Initially it was no more than the fact that I wanted to have a go. I’ve always adored Southern Gothic fiction. There’s something very warm and generous about those regional American writers like Twain and Lee and O’Connor, and it seemed to be a literary ilk that would lend itself well to the Australian condition. It was only after the themes announced themselves, and I realised where the book was headed that it seemed so apt and important to have these literary elements.
Out of Jasper, Charlie and Jeffrey – which one is most like Craig Silvey? Is there anything autobiographical about any of them, or any of your other characters for that matter?
I like to think I’m fairly evenly distributed through the three boys, though Charlie probably bears the larger share of my character, simply because we come to know him so well. Like Charlie, I was a bookish kid who was terrified of girls and insects but like Jeffrey Lu, I was also a cheeky, unflappable little antagoniser. I think, though, as I grow older, I’m evolving more and more into Jasper Jones: a little quieter, a little stronger, and a little more solitary.
So many hypotheticals spring up over the course of Jasper Jones, so, I pose to you one of my favourites: which could you rather live your life with, penises for fingers or a hat on your head made of poisonous spiders?
Spider hat. Hands down.
If you could claim any other writer’s work as your own, whose would it be?
Twain or Vonnegut.
Most annoying thing about being an author?
It’s far less annoying for me than it is for those closest to me. It’s hard being an author, but it’s harder knowing and loving an author. George Orwell said: Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.
And it’s unfortunately true. It’s something you’re beset by, it’s like some kind of seductive parasite that takes you over and wont leave you be. It’s not like other jobs where you can leave your woes at the office. It’s a very private battle. A very mild, genial form of schizophrenia. These characters and their story sort of take you over, and you delve further and further into their lives. And soon they’re taking more of your time and your nutrients, and you’re inhabiting this fictional world with a closer focus than the one you’re supposed to be living.
And, of course, that leaves less and less time for the real people in the real world who rightly expect to be an important part of your life. And you hope that they understand, or at the very least stay patient, but all they really know is that you’re absent when it counts. And so you want to tell them that it’s worth it, you want to show them what’s roiling inside your head, but of course you cant. You’ve got to wait it out and see it through. And so there’s this communal faith and patience, and more than enough teeth gritting, and in the end, you present this pound of flesh, and you hope that it might help reward that faith, that it might be worth it, that it might make these precious people proud. Because if it doesn’t, then you’re kinda just a self-centred douchebag.
If you could rid the world of ONE book, which would it be?
The first novel I ever wrote, when I was fourteen years old. It was as hideously and hilariously bad as it was earnestly epic. And it was called The Drug Warden. Enough said.
The last Australian book you read?
Breath, by Tim Winton.
Craig Silvey is one of our Featured Authors of the Month for June, and to celebrate, Boomerang Books is joining forces with our friends at Allen and Unwin to give blog readers the chance to win one of three copies of Craig’s newest release, Jasper Jones, so keep your eyes on the blog for competition details. It will be announced separately to our monthly giveaway, details for which can be found HERE.
As an aside, I’m really loving interviewing authors as part of our new, revitalised Boomerang Blog, and I hope you’re enjoying reading the interviews just as much. That said, do you have a particular Australian author you’d like us to interview? Send me an email, and I’ll see what I can do. 🙂
This month’s book giveaway is a bumper one, so be sure to register HERE for your chance to win copies of:
Roadside Sisters by Wendy Harmer SIGNED
Nina, Meredith and Annie have been friends for a long, long time. Elegant Meredith, motherly Nina and the determinedly single Annie are as unlikely companions as you could find. But like a matched set of 1950’s kitchen canisters of Flour, Sugar and Tea, they always seem to end up together. Now each is facing the various trials of middle age: divorces, less than satisfactory marriages, teenage kids, careers going nowhere. One night, over one too many Flaming Sambuccas during a reunion dinner, they somehow find themselves agreeing to take a road trip to Byron Bay in a RoadMaster Royale mobile home, to attend Meredith’s daughter’s wedding. Fights and friendship, tears and laughter – not to mention the possibility of finding Mr. Right along the way – this trip might tear them apart or it might just save their lives. Be sure to check out our exclusive interview with Wendy Harmer HERE.
The Hotel Albatross by Debra Adelaide
The Captain and his wife accidentally find themselves managing the Hotel Albatross. The Captain floats between the hotel’s various bars: chatting to and chatting up customers, breaking up fights, and dealing calmly with the simmering tensions of a small town. His wife has her hands full with the day-to-day running of the hotel: mediating between family members fighting over wedding decorations, appeasing disgruntled staff members, and dealing with the horror of what lies in room 101. She also dreams of getting out… A wonderfully poignant novel about hotel management and human nature.
The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks SIGNED
Nina became a vampire in 1973, when she was fifteen, and she hasn’t aged a day since then. But she hasn’t had any fun either, because her life is so sickly and boring. It becomes even worse when one of the other vampires in her therapy group is stalked by a mysterious slayer. Threatened with extinction, she and her fellow vampires decide to hunt down the culprit. Trouble is, they soon find themselves up against some gun-toting werewolf traffickers who’ll stop at nothing. Can a bunch of feeble couch potatoes win a fight like this? Or is there more to your average vampire than meets the eye?
World Shaker by Richard Harland
A brilliant fantasy that will hook you from the very first page, set aboard a huge ship in which the elites live on the top decks while the Filthies toil below. Col’s safe, civilized world on the upper decks of the Worldshaker, a huge ship that has been sailing since 1845, is changed forever when a Filthy from below finds her way into his cabin. Richard Harland has created an acutely observed and utterly compelling Gothic world of warped Victoriana to explore 16-year-old Col’s journey from cosseted youth to courageous maturity.
The Priestess and the Slave by Jenny Blackford
A tale of honor and dishonor, of love, pain, madness, and endurance, told with painstaking historical and archaeological accuracy. Set in Classical Greece in the fifth century BC, The Priestess and the Slave conveys the extraordinary history of the time through the eyes of two narrators – a Delphic Pythia deeply embroiled in the political turmoil earlier in the century, and a young slavewoman, some decades later, living through the terrible plague in Athens and the seemingly endless war against the invincible hoplites of Sparta. Vivid, gritty, and emotionally moving. Be sure to look out for Kate Forsyth’s review here exclusively on the Boomerang Blog this month.
The Last Protector by Cameron Raynes
The last protector presents a compelling argument that the South Australian government illegally took Aboriginal children from their parents during the years between 1939 and 1954. Adelaide historian Cameron Raynes draws on extensive archival records, the contents of which have never been available to the public before. Be sure to look out for Cameron Raynes’ exclusive guest-blog here exclusively on the Boomerang Blog this month.
To go into the draw to win this month’s prize, complete the entry form HERE. Entries close 30 June, 2009. Don’t forget, it’s a monthly giveaway, so be sure to favourite that link and keep visiting every month. Please note, entrants will be automatically subscribed to our fortnightly Boomerang Books Bulletin e-newsletter.
… A bonus for our blog readers
Keep an eye on the blog for a special, exclusive giveaway announcement coming this June. 🙂
… A bonus for our Facebook Friends
Need an incentive to join one of Australia’s largest book group on Facebook? Well, we have a great pack of books to give away to one of our Facebook Group members this month, which includes copies of The Hotel Albatross by Debra Adelaide, The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks (SIGNED), World Shaker by Richard Harland, The Priestess and the Slave by Jenny Blackford and The Last Protector by Cameron Raynes.
We’ve also got a further 3 copies of The Hotel Albatross to give away this month.
What are you waiting for? Join Now!
My earliest memories of Wendy Harmer are of her 2DayFM breakfast radio programme The Morning Crew – crammed in the back of the car with my two brothers, I’d listen to Wendy and her co-hosts. My brothers and I would laugh until our sides split, and I dreamt of making an audience laugh like that. I dreamt of being a comedian.
Then I got older, I grew self-conscious of everything from the way I looked to the sound of my voice and, for a few years, became deathly afraid of speaking in front of large groups – so, there went that career path out the window. But I stuck to writing, and I owe my decision to write comedies primarily to comedians like Wendy that I admired growing up. While everyone else was writing “deep” psychological pieces in school, broody, angsty works, I worked hard to make people laugh with my writing – I wanted to recapture the experience I had growing up, listening to Wendy and the Crew on the way to school.
Almost half a lifetime later, I sat in the audience at an event in Paddington Town Hall, partly as an on-the-scene reporter for Boomerang Books (for the event review, click here), and partly as a long-time fan of Wendy’s. Listening to her speak took me back to those good ol’ days when I didn’t have to guilt Mum into driving me places, and I wondered why I hadn’t read any of Wendy’s books. Granted, I’m not exactly the target audience, being a nineteen-year-old male, but still…
So, I bought two books for Mum. I figured, gauging Mum’s reactions to them was a good way to review the books without damaging my masculinity. Judging by the laughter coming down the hallway, Mum was a fan of both. Interest officially piqued, I pinched Nagging For Beginners from Mum’s nightstand after she left for work – I’d seen Wendy perform a few of the nags in person – and I loved it, cover to cover. I’m sure she’ll probably kill me for saying this, but I saw so much of Mum in that book. It wasn’t a book that only women could find relatable, it was a book about women, for everyone, and an insanely funny book at that. I figured I’d best give the other book I bought for Mum, Roadside Sisters a spin. I have to confess, I haven’t read much of it, but what I have read, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, and I am now severely regretting not picking up more books on Friday night (when I could’ve gotten Wendy to sign them…).
Well… that was a significantly longer introduction than I’d intended to have, so, less of me, and more Wendy…
You’re one of Australia’s best-loved comediennes. You’ve had a ludicrously successful career on TV and radio – what was it that attracted you to writing books? Was it something simply to pass the time, or something you’d always wanted to do?
I’ve wanted to write books all my life. I can remember writing my first short story at age eight. I invented a neighbourhood newspaper at ten (all hand-written). I edited the school magazine then became a cadet journalist at 18. Just in love with words and language. In fact I’ve been far more interested in writing than performing. So when I wrote my first book at age 48 (waited 40 years) it was a thrill.
Do you think that, as a “funny person”, you’re restricted to only writing funny, light books? Does Wendy Harmer have a deep, brooding literary work inside of her?
Well you know there are so many truly wonderful writers of deep and brooding works that I might leave it to them. I’m good at jokes and not everyone is! I think light and funny works for me. I probably have a searing satire inside me though which might see me go close for defamation – working up to that.
Do the jokes come first, and do you then find a story to fit them into, or is it the other way around?
I think of the issue first – be it the female negotiation of the ‘change of life’/revenge/the nature of friendship – and then structure the book around that. I don’t try to force gags. If you do that you lose the empathy for a character. I like it when readers have a laugh and then, hopefully a tear or two.
Your newest release, Roadside Sisters, follows Nina, Meredith and Annie as they travel from Melbourne to Byron Bay in a misguided search for an ‘Oprah moment’. What does one of these moments entail, and, more importantly, have you ever experienced one?
What Oprah is talking about, I think, is that moment when you suddenly “get it”. I tend to believe that the more you understand that you are not smart enough to understand anything – the smarter you get. If you know what I mean. Confused? Me too. Good isn’t it?
Out of Nina, Meredith and Annie – which one is Wendy Harmer? Is there anything autobiographical about any of them, or any of your other characters for that matter?
All my characters contain some aspect of me I suppose – and that’s the joy of writing. One has the chance to experience life through another character’s eyes. I’m endlessly disappointed that I only have one go at being alive and so writing goes some way to easing that.
There are heaps of “getting lost to find yourself” road-trip movies/books out there… what do you think sets Roadside Sisters apart from other similar texts?
It’s three women in the Australian landscape – I’ve never read one of those before. So many books are about journeys of course – either a literal or an allegorical one. Mine is lively and fun and feels to me to be real. I really loved taking the trip myself and I hope I convey my love of traveling in it.
What inspired you to write the Pearlie series? Was it purely for commercial reasons, or did you have a genuine interest in writing for kids?
I was sick of reading my daughter fairy stories about characters that were no more than Paris Hilton with wings – all frocking up to go to parties. Yawn! Pearlie is feisty – a bit of a detective, an overachiever, bossy. She has been successful because she has a bit of ‘get up and go’ about her. She’s not a soppy character. And each book has a real story – suspense and humour.
Are you planning any additions to the series?
The next one is Pearlie in Central Park. The first in a series where Pearlie leaves Jubilee Park and goes off to see the world. She encounters snow for the first time… and squirrels!
Who do you prefer to write for, adults or children? How do you feel about restricting your content for the Pearlie series, more so than you would for say, a book like Farewell My Ovaries?
The trick with the Pearlie books is to get character and story in 1600 words. They can be time consuming – like doing a giant crossword. Of course they are a vastly different exercise to adult books. I’ve just written my first young adult book : I Lost My Mobile at the Mall – Teenager on the Edge of a Technological Breakdown. It’s proved to me than I’ll happily write for any age group if the tale’s good enough.
Early after Farewell My Ovaries was released, a lot of it was made of its… content. What drove you to write a book like it?
I read a lot of chick/hen-lit and was always disappointed that there was no decent sex in there. I mean – you read for 300 pages about love and all that and there’s no sex? Surely we’ve moved on since Jane Austen.
What was the funniest complaint you received about it?
A woman wrote to complain the lead character smoked. No matter that she had some fairly wild sexual escapades. I thought, given her sex life, my heroine should have been on a pack a day of Camel unfiltered!
Nagging For Beginners… it’s all shades of brilliant. How many of the nags featured in that book would you admit to ever having used?
All of them, repeatedly. BTW. Why are you sitting around reading this when your room looks like a pigsty?
I’ll have you know, my room looks like… [William looks away from the computer to see a stack of clothes on his unmade bed. To be fair, he’s packing for a trip to Queensland, but still, point taken] …Of your books, which one has the best opening line?
‘Now, Francie, I want you to look into this mirror and tell me what you love about yourself.’ Love and Punishment.
If you could claim any other writer’s work as your own, whose would it be?
J. K. Rowling, please.
If you could rid the world of ONE book, which would it be?
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Aaargh!
The last Australian book you read?
Cooee by Vivienne Kelly and I loved it! She’s such an acute observer of character.
I asked my friend for a random filler question, and she came up with this, so, fill away: What is the most valuable piece of advice you were never told?
Never cross the Portuguese border at 3a.m. in a car full of piano players with Ignatius Jones in the boot – it will only end in tears!
“This project is a real opportunity for all Australians to get involved in a simple, effective and meaningful community activity. I encourage you, your school, your bookclub, or your organisation to be involved.”
– Thérèse Rein, Patron
This morning, I attended the launch of Book Buzz, an initiative of the Indigenous Literacy Project, at Customs House:
Unfortunately, this is the last photo my camera took before it decided to kick the proverbial bucket and only take corrupted .jpgs, something I only realised five minutes ago. Anyway, it was a great morning (and for the record, I took some great photos), with guests including Kate Grenville and Thérèse Rein. The Indigenous Literacy Project really is a worthwhile cause, one that Boomerang Books is proud to support.
I have an illiterate grandmother, and I know how frustrating life can be for her. She’s in her seventies, and she can’t read prescription labels on medication, street signs, or even her own name on letters. Her education was interrupted by World War II, and after that, she migrated to Australia. Luckily, she has her children, and grandchildren, and neighbours, and friends, to help her. In some indigenous communities, this support network doesn’t exist. And it isn’t a one-off event like the War that only causes illiteracy in one generation, as was the case with my grandmother, it is continued illiteracy, generation after generation. The Indigenous Literacy Project aims to raise literacy levels and, in turn, improve the lives of these Indigenous Australians living in remote and isolated regions.
This is done by providing books and literacy resources to indigenous communities and raising broad community awareness of indigenous literacy issues.
“Disappearing into a book and into someone else’s world and into another story is a great joy. And for me having three children, one of my joys was to drop down to browse in our local bookshop and to find great books with them.”
– Thérèse Rein, Patron
In 2007 and 2008, the Project raised over $500,000, and aims to raise another $250,000 in 2009.
To learn more about the Indigenous Literacy Project, or to make a donation, you can visit: http://www.indigenousliteracyproject.org.au
Ah… the joys of non-ticketed events. I’d hoped to squeeze my way into four events, but only managed to get into two (apologies to e-newsletter subscriber, Amanda, who didn’t get her request…).
Research and Writing requested by e-newsletter subscriber Lisa
Paul Ham, Catherine Jinks and Babette Smith were shortlisted for ‘The Nib’: CAL Waverley Library Award for Literature, which recognises excellence in research. They joined Ashley Hay, a former literary editor of The Bulletin in discussion.
It was an interesting session. I’m not a big history buff, so I wasn’t expecting to have the time of my life or anything, but I was pleasantly surprised. The three speakers were great – informative and entertaining.
Paul Ham detailed how he went about interviewing former Vietnamese soldiers for his Vietnam: The Australian War. To get them to stop repeating the party line they’d been towing for forty years, he joked that he would “ply them with Jacobs Creek until they conceded defeat.”
Catherine Jinks on writing her first real protagonist in her historical fiction, The Dark Mountain: “She was real, and she has descendants who post on my message board… I live in fear of retribution.”
Ham mentioned the two conflicting forces acting inside him when he finds a great, entertaining historical story to write about – the academic push and the journalistic pull. On the one hand, the academic thing to do is to push really interesting stories aside, because it means these might be represented with more emphasis than they deserve, because you’re captured by how entertaining it is. On the other hand, there’s the journalist inside of him saying, “That’s a great story, put it on the front page!” Writing non-fiction is about “finding the correct context for a great story in history.”
Babette Smith revealed and shattered some of the distortions and myths about convicts in Australia… I’d go into more detail, but I don’t want to spoil Australia’s Birthstain for you.
Overall, three very entertaining speakers. Plus, I caught up with Catherine after the session, and it looks like she’ll be stopping by for an author interview next month. 🙂
Craig Silvey In Conversation requested by… well, me.
Craig Silvey’s blindingly successful first novel, Rhubarb, sold over 15,000 copies and saw him acknowledged as one of The Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Australian Novelists. He talked about his second novel, Jasper Jones with Daniel Stacey.
After catching Craig yesterday, I wanted to see him again. He was in the same room as Research and Writing, just after it finished, so I took it as a sign and stayed put. He read the opening of his book, and spoke about his influences a little more than he did yesterday, but I’m going to sit on those details for a little bit, and save them for our interview with Craig next month.
Craig: …What, you seem… you seem disappointed by that answer. Wasn’t it good?
Daniel: No… it was fine. It’s just… I was worrying [looking at clock on the wall showing there’s 35 minutes left in the session]. I’ve only got one question left…
And what an evening it was.
Tonight’s event at the Paddington Town Hall (“I went to a Sleaze Ball here once!” – Wendy Harmer) was completely different to the one earlier this afternoon. While Coming of Age was very much about the writing process, An Evening With Wendy Harmer was about the writer herself. I guess it’s because of Wendy’s history as a comedienne, or as her jacketflap bio puts it, “humourist”. She has a certain stage presence and is comfortable veering off-course. In fact, most of the evening was spent intentionally veering off Angela “I’m supposed to be interviewing you” Catterns’ script, because, as she said, “Nobody wants to hear about that, that’s boring.” And she was always right. As entertaining and funny and engaging as her books may be (and they are), Wendy Harmer’s not the sort of person you go to hear speak to learn about her authorial intent. You want jokes, you want anecdotes, you want her opinion on things, you want her guessing the weight of Angela Catterns’ breasts – and if you were there, you got exactly that.
As an aside, this wasn’t a session for the kiddies. As someone who grew up listening to her breakfast show on 2DayFM, it was a shock (and a pleasure) to hear her frequently drop the F-bomb in conversation.
Sprinkled in amongst the social commentary and relentless gags were brief mentions of her books. She was inspired to write Farewell My Ovaries because, reading chick- and hen-lit, she’d always be annoyed at the chapter breaks between the lines “They collapsed onto the bed in each others arms.” and “They woke up the next morning.” She wanted to write the sex, but writing sex is just like writing comedy, according to Wendy, because everybody has different tastes. As she puts it, one person’s “Come on over, sexy” can be someone else’s “Oh my God, get away from me”. Reactions were varied. She quoted one reviewer who described the sex as gruesome, and another that likened her exploration of sex to canonical texts I’ve forgotten since the event (my bad).
She also spoke about her newest release, Roadside Sisters, which sounds like your standard three-women-on-a-roadtrip, only doused in Harmer’s trademark humour. But, there were more pressing matters to discuss (see: Angela’s breasts – Wendy thinks they’re somewhere between one-and-a-half and two kilos each).
Five minutes before the conclusion of the session, Angela tried to steer Wendy into a bit of shameless promotion (and it worked, the book she shamelessly promoted, her personal favourite, Nagging For Beginners sold out the moment the Evening was over, and I was sure to grab a copy for Mum, which is currently being thoroughly enjoyed, judging by the laughter coming from her bedroom). She acted out a few of the featured nags, including my favourite, the Striptease Nag, which, if you ever have the pleasure of seeing her perform, is the funniest thing ever.
Comedienne or humourist, whatever you want to call her, Wendy is an entertainer. If you ever have the chance to go and see her live, I whole-heartedly recommend her. If you want something to keep you company until then, there’s always her writing and her podcasts.
“I don’t write children’s books, my books just happen to be about children.”
– Sonya Hartnett
At the request of e-newsletter subscriber, Jessica, I woke up early – well, early for a university student – and made my way into the Sydney CBD for the 1p.m. Writers’ Festival session, Coming of Age featuring award-winning authors Sonya Hartnett and Craig Silvey, which was facilitated by Melanie Ostell.
As someone who sat through countless author visits in high school, I’ve always been wary about listening to authors give talks. Sometimes, they’re fantastic in front of a crowd, just as you’d imagined them, but sometimes, the author on the page is different to the author on the stage.
Thankfully, Hartnett and Silvey were every bit as engaging and entertaining as I thought they’d be. That’s not to say they were jumping around on stage in a showy, look-at-me-I’m-a-performer kind of way. They sat, relaxed, and carefully took turns in answering facilitator Melanie’s questions (and kudos to Melanie, she asked all the right questions). It was a very laid-back session, and it was so interesting to hear Sonya and Craig speak frankly (and with such wit) about their artistic processes, and the life experiences that inspired their latest works, Butterfly and Jasper Jones respectfully.
Craig Silvey read from his Jasper Jones, and as a teen boy myself (for what? 9 more days…), I can tell you that he’s captured our verbal exchanges and attitudes expertly ([After spilling something in the living room] “He mops it up with a cushion”). Later in the session, after recounting a joke from the book which involved the hypothetical choice between living life wearing a hat made of with poisonous spiders or living life having each finger replaced with a certain male appendage, he remarked, matter-of-factly, “My book is deep,” and I knew, right then and there, that I’d be a life-long fan of his.
“Women come out looking pretty bad…”
– Melanie Ostell on Butterfly
Girl politics features heavily in Sonya Hartnett’s Butterfly, and when asked about teenage girls and their penchant for bitchery, Hartnett had some fun (“Sometimes you see it and you’re just like… ‘Arrghh, you little cretins.'”). She based the manuscript on the teen-girl relations she witnessed twenty years ago (when the novel is set). She gave the first draft to her fourteen-year-old neighbour, Matilda, and after finishing it, Matilda approached her and asked, “How did you know how the girls at [school’s name] acted?” So, clearly, nothing’s changed in the world of teen-girl relations. Hartnett joked that no-one ever admits to being the schoolyard bitch – grab one hundred middle-aged women and ask them, and they’ll all say they were the girls that suffered through high school. “Where do those girls go [after high school]? Do they just disappear?”
Melanie asked Craig for his thoughts, to which he replied, “I’m relieved I have a penis… [teen girl fights] seem like condensed Cold Wars”.
To steer the conversation to the subject of the session, coming of age, Melanie remarked, “Both books feature younger characters learning things they can’t fully understand… for many years to come.” The two were then invited to engage with the topic.
Sonya spoke frankly about her protagonist: “Plum’s a moron.” Cue the audience’s laughter. Then, she continued, “You’re not writing them, you’re writing to the reader. You’re saying, ‘Look, what is being learnt here?’ I’m not asking Plum to understand. At fourteen, no kid will understand what’s going on… The character is something through which you address the reader.”
Craig threw in his two cents, adding that coming of age isn’t necessarily becoming an adult. It’s something different. When you’re a teenager, you’re “a strange midget drunk living in a bubble” (his words), and the moment that bubble bursts, and you’re forced to see the world differently, and see the world through other people’s eyes, and you’ve become more empathetic, and leartn to distrust things, and created your own world-view, instead of just subscribing to others’ – that’s when you’ve come of age. Becoming an adult is simply aging, but becoming “of age” is earning that age through wisdom.
“People who read are the finest people in the world.”
– Craig Silvey
And he wasn’t just sucking up to ensure every member of the audience bought his book either. He went on to explain that readers come of age through the process of reading, and experiencing life through other people’s lenses.
So, go on. Get reading.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to see Wendy Harmer.
Earlier this year, I was invited by the Children’s Book Council Australia (NSW Sub-Branch) to speak at their 2009 Triple-A Event, where we reflect on a year of children’s releases and toast the shortlist when it’s announced at midday. I was the Older Readers speaker, which meant I had to read every entrant in the Older Readers category. That meant I had to read the copy of James Roy’s Hunting Elephants that was sitting in my bookshelf. Despite having met the author a few times and my general feelings of guilt stemming from not actually having read any of his books, I’d been putting off reading it, because, frankly, the blurb didn’t appeal to me. Vietnam vets, a rural wedding… to say I was dreading it would be to understate the fact. Significantly.
I won’t sugarcoat it – I read it because I was forced to. Well, I started reading it because I was forced to. I finished it in a day because I absolutely loved it. It was mature, it didn’t talk down to its readers, but at the same time, it showing off. It was just genuinely well-written. That’s the key to its broad appeal – and I handed the book to Mum when I finished. She loved it, and this is the woman who’s only finished reading one other book in the past fifteen years: my own.
I selected Hunting Elephants as one of my picks for the CBCA Older Readers Shortlist, and I was really disappointed when it didn’t make it. But not being on the Shortlist doesn’t mean a book isn’t deserving of your time, and Hunting Elephants is certainly deserving of your time.
First off – why the hate for olives? I mean, granted, I’m Greek, but surely, no one can hate them enough to mention them in jacketflap bios AND on their website?
I don’t rightly know. Maybe it’s because they’re so bold and intense and singular (almost un-subtle) in their flavour, although I’m sure there are aficionados who will accuse me of being a trog for saying that. But I mean, even if you don’t like artichokes, they’re still a bit ‘pick ’em off if you can be bothered’, and if you get a bite of gherkin in your burger, you barely notice. But olives are almost aggressive in their boldness of flavour. I just don’t like them. Is this really what we’re going to be talking about?
Hahaha… You know my priorities: olives first, literature second. 🙂 Now, literature: 2008’s release, Hunting Elephants was one of my favourites of the year. What I loved most was the way you approached representing cystic fibrosis, and didn’t blatantly try to manipulate the audience into “feeling for the sick kid”. There was a certain understated realism to its portrayal – was it based on a personal experience… or just a lot of research?
First, thanks. And that’s more like it. Sure beats the olives question…
When I worked as a registered nurse on the adolescent unit of a major children’s hospital, there were several issues I didn’t feel I wanted to discuss in my writing, mainly because I was dealing with that stuff every day. Dying kids, mental illness, cancer, eating disorders and cystic fibrosis. But I was still observing it, and biding my time as a writer, and I wrote about other things. Then, when I stopped doing that job, I was ready to write about some of that stuff. In Town, I included a character with anorexia nervosa, and in Hunting Elephants it was CF. I saw one boy die exactly the way Joel did in Hunting Elephants, and it wasn’t pretty. Fortunately many kids with CF are getting transplants nowadays, but it’s still a tough life. So here’s my soapbox moment: tick the organ donor card on your license renewal form, people, and support CF fund-raisers. There is a cure out there somewhere.
We’ve had heaps of requests that we ask authors about their process… so, how did you go about writing Hunting Elephants? Are you a planner? What was the biggest change that came out of the editing process?
I’m not a planner. Any time I try to plan, I end up getting impatient and frustrated and just getting on with the writing. I fly by the seat of my pants, and let the book come out of asking one question, which was first said by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing).
And Studio 60… and I think I’m the only person on the planet who preferred / watched the short-lived Studio 60…
Well, he said that his characters come out of asking this: “What do they want?” Lili Wilkinson goes one step further, and suggests we also ask: “What do they need?”, remembering that sometimes the want and the need are in opposition. And once you know what a character wants, you make it almost impossible to get it. That’s the conflict, right there. So this is a question that I’m asking, almost subconsciously, the whole time I’m writing.
Hunting Elephants was going to be about a tunnel rat in the Vietnam War, full of creepy stories and adventures. But when I researched and interviewed, I learnt that there is the clichéd, typecast view of the Vietnam vet – angry, sullen, traumatised, unwilling to open up – and then there are all the others. Plus one guy who didn’t in fact do very much during the war, but was more comfortable letting people believe he saw and did traumatic stuff, rather than acknowledge that his experience wasn’t in fact all that harrowing. I found his story much more interesting.
A caveat to that: this is not to say that the support guys who were based at Nui Dat weren’t fought against, but simply that what we believe we see and what we actually see and what we’re allowed to believe are often three completely separate things.
What about it are you most proud of?
The structure. Flashback isn’t something I’ve always done well, so I found that the way it worked in Hunting Elephants was quite pleasing. I’m also quite proud of the cystic fibrosis stuff, because it feels like something of a tribute to the kids I nursed over the years, and their families, who are confronted with emotions and challenges no one should ever have to face.
You mentioned Town earlier and it’s something we have to talk about. A friend and fellow blogger, Adele Walsh, over at Persnickety Snark, picked this quotation from it that made my morning:
“And to Mr Richard Foster who is joining our geography and maths facility. He’s apparently quite the cyclist, so those of you wanting a good hard ride might like to track him down.” p.15
Town received a lot of award attention (insert dramatically long list of accolades here, including the NSW Premier’s Award [Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature 2008]), did you write it thinking it’d be so well-received, or did its reception surprise you?
Strangely, when I finished it, I felt incredibly satisfied. With almost everything else I’ve ever written, I get a serious case of cold feet once the final proofs have gone back to the publisher, and it’s now out of my control. I agonise about whether I rushed it, whether I could have sent away a better book with another six months at it, and I doubt whether it will even get bought, much less get good reviews. And shortlists and awards are the furthest thing from my mind. But with Town, I knew that it was a good book. That sounds arrogant, but I don’t mean it to be. I just felt very, very satisfied, and didn’t feel that I would have changed a single word even if I’d had another year at it. Which is ironic, because on the first reprint, we had to change several words that were typos.
Did its reception surprise me? A little, I guess. I felt it was the best book I could produce, but when it got a five-star review in Australian Bookseller and Publisher, I was a little stunned. In a good way. A very good way. And when someone tells me that they’ve read it (it’s not even necessary that they’ve enjoyed it – having read it is enough) I’m still a little surprised and flattered. I think this is because after years of writing books that got good reviews, I still felt slightly invisible. I still haven’t seen someone reading one of my books on a train or a bus, though. But I have seen someone reading Loathing Lola. True story.
Tempted to use that to a segue-way to a conversation about me… but I won’t. I know you keep churning out novels, what’s next on the horizon? Tell us about them.
Earlier this year was The Gimlet Eye, in the Quentaris series. As my first proper fantasy book, that was a lot of fun. And in the US was Max Quigley, Technically Not a Bully, which was a rebadge of Problem Child.
Later this year is Edsel Grizzler: Voyage to Verdada, which is Book 1 in a trilogy for middle-grade readers. It’s a kind of existential sci-fi thing about a boy who is transported to Verdada, the land of lost things. It’s all happy happy, joy joy in Verdada. Or so it appears…
And very early in 2010 is Anonymity Jones, a YA book about a girl whose life is in something of a tailspin, and the drastic measures she takes to regain some kind of control. I know, that’s never been done before in a YA book, has it? What’s different for me with this book is that it’s quite short, so I’ve had to be very direct and (hopefully) elegant in my prose.
And after that? The remainder of the Edsel Grizzler trilogy, and another collection of linked short stories like Town, only set in the city. The working title? City, obviously. I’m pretty excited about that one.
Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature 2010 mayhaps?… Working on anything at the moment?
Always. I’m just tidying up the end of Anonymity Jones, plus working on a couple of commissioned pieces. Plus I’m putting notes aside for some of the ten or so projects I’ve got slated for the future.
Ever considered writing another Mack book?
I was planning to, but every plot point I tried seemed too convenient or coincidental, and a little opportunistic. Never say never, but at the moment I don’t think so.
What inspired you to write The ‘S’ Word? A frustrating puberty?
Ha! Nice try!
Actually, yes, kind of. My sex education was largely from World Book Encyclopaedia. In fact, I think my mother thought I was going to be a fashion designer, because every time she came into my room I was reading about Sewing Machines. Of course, this was only a page or two over from Sex.
But to be completely serious, there were so many books for girls about their ‘changing bodies’ and ‘relationships’, but very little for boys of 10-14. There were books for much older boys, and for little kids, but I wanted middle-grade boys to be able to open my book and get answers to what was worrying or confusing or interesting them without feeling intimidated by the language, or patronised by the level of information.
I also wanted to emphasise to the next generation of young men that sexual development isn’t about the mechanics of sex, but about relationships and mutual respect. This is why I dedicated whole chapters to discussing how we talk to girls, how to behave on dates, etc. I felt a little stung by a review that said this book was potentially detrimental to relationships, because that was EXACTLY what much of the book was about. I’m still not convinced that reviewer even read the book.
I also want to acknowledge Gus Gordon for his fantastic illustrations. I asked him for a chapter header, and one illo per chapter, two illos for the longer chapters. He came back with complete cartoons, each of which tells a proper little story. He was worried that a couple of them had gone too far, but I don’t think we rejected a single one.
On your website, you mention you hate authors who take themselves too seriously, or refer to themselves in the third person… Are you willing to name-drop?
Mmm, nice try. No, although I think they – and you and your readers – know who they are.
I will say this, though. Any published writer who begins to believe that their success is a birthright or an inevitability needs to be very careful, because they’re possibly destined for a nasty surprise. I am a big believer in the sliding doors principle, where tiny circumstances can affect later outcomes. I would never argue that I am a better writer than every unpublished author, nor would I argue that I am a worse writer than some hugely successful authors. I feel privileged that I get to do this as a full-time job, and of course there needs to a be a bit of ability and truckloads of hard work. I am blessed with both those things. But there also needs to be good fortune. Consider this: had the editor to whom I sent my first book been having an off day, or had just filled her 1996 publishing schedule that morning, or simply not liked my writing, or I’d sent the wrong sample chapters, I could still be writing cover letters and filing rejection slips in my scrapbook. And that situation could come back any day.
As I say, I feel immensely privileged to be able to make stories up for a living. I filled out an online form a couple of days ago, and under occupation, I clicked on Arts/Communication. And under that was a list of about twenty jobs. Writer wasn’t on there. So few people get to do it. Yeah, I feel lucky.
So to the authors who get to smug about their success, I’d say this: be wary of believing your own publicity. There’s that old saying – ‘Be nice to the little people on the way up, because you’ll probably hit them on the way back down.’ Panel-beat that however you like for this scenario, and it still holds true.
Of your books – which one has the best opening line?
Can I have three?
“It was the last time I saw her.” (Almost Wednesday)
“Harry was dying.” (Hunting Elephants)
“Once, in a street not very far from yours, there lived a girl, whose name was Anonymity Jones.” (Anonymity Jones)
I like the last one best… Who do you prefer to write for, children or young adults?
Both. I know that sounds glib, but I really do love both, for different reasons. My imagination was somewhat snap-frozen at 10-13, thanks in no small part to the place I was living at the time, so I love writing about that time in kids’ lives, when things are simpler in many ways, but complex in others. Life’s a little more optimistic then than it is once true adolescence hits, perhaps. And yet I love being able to stretch my legs a little more when I write for older readers.
As far as speaking goes, I absolutely love getting up in front of an audience of Grade Fives and Sixes – their enthusiasm is so much fun, and they respond in a really fresh way. High school audiences can be a bit more of a challenge, but when it works, it’s incredibly rewarding.
The most frustrating thing about being a writer?
When I was a registered nurse, I had a staff room. I had colleagues. I had peer support. Writers don’t get that every day. So the loneliness – or perhaps I should say solitude – of writing can be challenging.
But I think my biggest personal frustration is that after thirteen years and almost twenty books, I still have to do as much schools work as I do, because for the most part, good reviews don’t necessarily ensure good royalties. I love schools work, but once in a while I’d like to be able to call my agent and say ‘I’m not doing any school gigs for the next three months – I’ve got some writing I want to do and I need some uninterrupted time’, and know that I can still pay the mortgage.
If you could claim any other writer’s work as your own, whose would it be?
Easy. Roald Dahl. Some authors can write funny, some can write gross, some can write important and moving. Roald Dahl did the lot. Plus he wrote some pretty good stuff for grownups.
If you could rid the world of ONE book, which would it be?
I’m tempted to say Mein Kampf, but I don’t know how widely it’s read. So probably Twilight. I think it and its companion books set the liberated woman back by about thirty years, nothing much happens, I’ve read fan fiction that is better, and I think it’s dishonest in its description of many Western teens and their attitude to sex.
Last Australian book you read?
Into White Silence by Anthony Eaton. Brilliant, creepy, chilling, and I wish I’d written it.
And the last non-Australian book I read was Tamar, by Mal Peet. It won the Carnegie Medal, and is such a fantastic blend of history, mystery and young adult angst.
Boomerang Books would like to congratulate all the winners of the 2009 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. We’re proud of you as book lovers and as Australians.
People’s Choice Award
Steve Toltz, A Fraction of the Whole
The fact is, the whole of Australia despises my father more than any other man, just as they adore my uncle more than any other man. I might as well set the story straight about both of them. Heroes or criminals? Crackpots or visionaries? Relatives or enemies? It’s a simple family story. From the New South Wales bush to bohemian Paris, from sports fields to strip clubs, from the jungles of Thailand to a leaky boat in the Pacific, A Fraction of the Whole follows the Deans on their freewheeling, scathingly funny and finally deeply moving quest to leave their mark on the world.
2008 Book of the Year Award ($10,000) & UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing ($5,000, sponsored by UTS)
Nam Le, The Boat
In 1979, Nam Le’s family left Vietnam for Australia, an experience that inspires the first and last stories in The Boat. In between, however, Le’s imagination lays claim to the world. The Boat takes us from a tourist in Tehran to a teenage hit man in Colombia from an ageing New York artist to a boy coming of age in a small Victorian fishing town from the city of Hiroshima just before the bomb is dropped to the haunting waste of the South China Sea in the wake of another war. Each story uncovers a raw human truth. Each story is absorbing and fully realised as a novel. Together, they make up a collection of astonishing diversity and achievement.
Special Award ($20,000)
Ms Katharine Brisbane AM for her service to Australian literature and theatre. Click HERE for a list of her writing.
Christina Stead Prize for fiction ($40,000)
Joan London, The Good Parents
Maya de Jong, an eighteen-year-old country girl, comes to live in Melbourne and starts an affair with her boss, the enigmatic Maynard Flynn, whose wife is dying of cancer. When Maya’s parents, Toni and Jacob, arrive to stay with her, they are told by her housemate that Maya has gone away and no one knows where she is. As Toni and Jacob wait and search for Maya in Melbourne, everything in their lives is brought into question. They recall the yearning and dreams, the betrayals and choices of their pasts – choices with unexpected and irrevocable consequences. With Maya’s disappearance, the lives of all those close to her come into focus, to reveal the complexity of the ties that bind us to one another, to parents, children, siblings, friends and lovers.
Douglas Stewart Prize for non-fiction ($40,000)
Chloe Hooper, The Tall Man: death and life on Palm Island
In 2004 Cameron Doomadgee, a 36-year-old resident of Palm Island, was arrested for swearing at a white police officer. Within 45 minutes he was dead. The main suspect was well respected Senior Sergeant Christopher Hurley. This is the story of what happened, the trial, and the Aboriginal myths around the case.
Kenneth Slessor Prize for poetry ($30,000)
L K Holt, Man Wolf Man
L K Holt’s poems are stories, and eruptions from the midst of story. They are also pure lyric. A feeling for the formality of language guides her lines through a music of rhyme, half-rhyme (and quarter-rhyme) and turns found images of this world into blazon. She explores some dark matters – with homages to Goya, through the eyes of his mistress, and to Donne. She has a particular touch with the sensory strangeness in states of extremity; yet the giftedness of life breaks into vision in Holt’s poetry with lightness.
Patricia Wrightson Prize for children’s literature ($30,000)
Ursula Dubosarsky, illustrated by Tohby Riddle, The Word Spy
Discover the meaning of acronyms, cliches and spoonerisms. Find out the history of the alphabet, punctuation, pen names and plurals. Learn how to trick your friends by speaking in Pig Latin or rhyming slang. This entertaining, quirky and enlightening look at the English language is full of games, puzzles, facts and riddles. Ages 9+.
Ethel Turner Prize for young people’s literature ($30,000)
Michelle Cooper, A Brief History of Montmaray
Sophie FitzOsborne lives in a crumbling castle in the tiny island kingdom of Montmaray, along with her tomboy younger sister Henry, her beautiful, intellectual cousin Veronica, and Veronica’s father, the completely mad King John. When Sophie receives a leather-bound journal for her sixteenth birthday, she decides to write about her day-to-day life on the island. But it is 1936 and the world is in turmoil. Does the arrival of two strangers threaten everything Sophie holds dear? From Sophie’s charming and lively observations to a nail-biting, unputdownable ending, this is a book to be treasured.
Script Writing Award ($30,000)
Louis Nowra, Rachel Perkins & Beck Cole, First Australians
Play Award ($30,000)
Daniel Keene, The Serpent’s Teeth, Sydney Theatre Company, Currency Press
Community Relations Commission Award ($15,000, sponsored by the CRC)
Eric Richards, Destination Australia: migration to Australia since 1901
In 1901 most Australians were loyal, white subjects of the British Empire with direct connections to Britain. Within a hundred years, following an unparalleled immigration program, its population was one of the most diverse on earth. No other country has achieved such radical social and demographic change in so short a time. Destination Australia tells the story of this extraordinary transformation. Against the odds, this change has caused minimal social disruption and tension. While immigration has generated some political and social anxieties, Australia has maintained a stable democracy and a coherent social fabric. One of the impressive achievements of the book is in explaining why this might be so.
Gleebooks Prize ($10,000, sponsored by Gleebooks)
David Love, Unfinished Business: Paul Keating’s interrupted revolution
Veteran economic and financial observer, David Love, explores the story of Keating’s revolution – a story that has never before been fully told – and sounds a timely warning that the failure to finish the job Keating started has left our new-found prosperity vulnerable, particularly in the current climate of international economic uncertainty. The revolution, it turns out, is at least as relevant to the future as it has been to the past.
The Biennial NSW Premier’s Translation Prize ($30,000)
David Colmer for his translations from the Dutch.
Author siblings are pretty rare – and with Kate Forsyth being featured on the blog, and her new novel The Puzzle Ring featuring in our giveaway for the month (click HERE for your chance to win), I knew I just couldn’t pass off the opportunity to approach her sister, author Belinda Murrell for her honest take on her sister’s work. Naturally, a little part of me was hoping for the claws to come out and some brutal sibling competitiveness to really take centre-stage, but really, there’s none in sight. And while she might be quick to admit possible bias, Belinda’s review simply echoes the praise I’ve read for the book in reviews from other sources.
The Puzzle Ring by Kate Forsyth
Age 10+ Fiction
Hannah Rose Brown is an ordinary Australian 12-year-old. Or so she thinks. Until a mysterious letter arrives from her long-lost great-grandmother in Scotland, which shatters Hannah’s life and everything she believed about herself. Hannah is actually the great-granddaughter of a countess, and heir to a Scottish castle. Worst of all her family is cursed by dark magic. Hannah must travel back in time to Scotland in the time of Mary, Queen of Scots, to try to find the Puzzle Ring, break the curse and save the father she has never met.
The Puzzle Ring weaves together the fascinating history of sixteenth century Scotland, with a rich vein of magic including fairies, hag-stones, water horses, witches and ancient spells.
Kate Forsyth is a wonderful story-teller. Her characters are vibrant and engaging, the plot thrilling and the setting evocative. I am, of course, deeply biased as Kate is my sister! This book is based on stories told to us when we were children by my Scottish grandmother and great-aunts, so I can truly taste the marmalade cakes. I loved The Puzzle Ring, and I am sure so too will many, many children around the world.
Belinda Murrell is author of The Sun Sword Trilogy and The Locket of Dreams, a novel for children aged 8+, which is set in contemporary Australia and Scotland and Australia during the 1850s. Coincidentally The Locket of Dreams is also inspired by stories told by her Scottish grandmother. That’s what happens when you grow up in a story-telling family! For more information about Belinda and her writing, click here.
… See what I did there?
Simmone Howell is made of awesome. I’ll make no attempt to hide my bias. I’m a teenage reader, and I’d place her as equal to Barry Jonsberg in terms of producing some of the greatest Australian YA fiction at the moment. Her debut Notes From The Teenage Underground was an amazing read (but I will say I wasn’t a fan of the last two pages…), but her follow-up, 2008’s Everything Beautiful was perfect. Warm, fun, heart-warming, silly, poignant, funny – Simmone balances it all masterfully. If there’s one notable omission to the CBCA’s Shortlist, it’s this book. One look at the back cover, and you’re sold. There appear the words:
I believe in Chloe and chocolate.
I believe the best part is always before.
I believe that most girls are shifty and most guys are dumb.
I believe the more you spill, the less you are.
I don’t believe in life after death or diuretics or happy endings.
I don’t believe anything good will come of this.
Visitors will know I’ve been hyping up Boomerang Books’ first Twinterview (I won’t say it’s the first ever interview on Twitter, I mean… it can’t be… can it?!?), and earlier this week, Simmone and I both sat down in front of our computers, I delayed doing my uni homework, she delayed prepping dinner, and we had a fun conversation about everything from influences to portable animal farms, shameful childhood stories to Christian camps. She spilled the beans on considering writing a prequel to her first book, Notes From The Teenage Underground, on actually working on the screenplay for its film adaptation, and her work-in-progress teen noir novel.
You can still catch it on Twitter, all you need to do is follow both Simmone (http://www.twitter.com/postteen) and us (http://www.twitter.com/boomerangbooks) and go through your history of stored tweets!
Are you an author? Fancy a Twinterview? Send me an email here and we’ll make it happen.
Simmone Howell, two books-deep, has proven herself to be a formidable force on the YA market. Her debut, Notes From the Teenage Underground won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Young Adult Literature 2007, and was brill. Her latest, Everything Beautiful, was my favourite book of last year.
At 5p.m. this evening, I’ll be hopping on Twitter and interviewing her – and I want you there. All you have to do is join Twitter – which is easy enough – then you make sure you’re following both Simmone (www.twitter.com/postteen) and I (www.twitter.com/boomerangbooks), and you can watch our interview as it happens… You can even hurl her a few questions yourself!
We’ll also be giving away a SIGNED copy of Simmone Howell’s magnificent Everything Beautiful some time soon, so watch this space! I have to give it away ASAP to rid myself of the temptation to slot it in my bookshelf and call it my own.
Hope you can stop by. 🙂
UPDATE T’was great fun, transcript coming soon.
I remember being in Year Six and standing in my best friend’s room. I’d been left alone for some reason. Naturally, I started snooping, and it wasn’t long until my eyes fell on a book with a silver spine and a dragon on the cover sitting, with a bookmark splitting its side, on his nightstand. My friend was reading a fantasy book? I approached said book, I couldn’t believe my luck. Finally, I had something to return serve with during witty banter. When he mentioned my love for creative writing, I could reply with, ‘Yes, but you read fantasy books.’
Being 11, there was only one way to react to this discovery: to heap a inconceivable amount of insults on him when he returned. Return he did, and heap I did. I heaped for a good five minutes, gesturing periodically at the book on his nightstand.
He waited until I was finished. When I was content with the amount of heaping I’d done, I finished with, ‘I never thought you’d like fantasy books,’ to which he replied, ‘Kate Forsyth doesn’t write fantasy books, she writes great books. There’s a difference.’
A little corny, yes, but that’s my earliest memory of Kate Forsyth and her writing – and the book in question was Dragonclaw, the first book in her wildly successful The Witches of Eileanan series. I have to confess I haven’t read much of her work, and I was half-tempted to have my friend interview her, but then I figured, I wouldn’t be much of a blog helmer / media student if I didn’t conduct the first interview myself.
And so, without further ado, Kate Forsyth, Australia’s undisputed Queen of Fantasy…
Just how has your newest release, The Puzzle Ring, been influenced by your own Scottish heritage?
The Puzzle Ring was directly inspired by the stories by Scottish grandmother and great-aunts used to tell me when I was a little girl. They gave me a deep fascination with all things Scottish, plus a romantic imagination fed with tales of battles and feuds and brave deeds. I actually wrote a novel set in Scotland when I was 11 which was called ‘Far, Far Away’ and always longed to go there.
It has elements of historical fiction crammed in with the fantasy – how did you go about researching the novel?
I love to research. It’s reading for a purpose. I did a lot of research for this book – not just on Scottish history and folklore, but also on time travel theories and how to sleep in the snow without getting frostbite.
Who’s favourite character in The Puzzle Ring?
Apart from Hannah, my heroine, my favourite character is Linnet, the old, mysterious cook at the castle.
What are you working on now, if anything at all?
I’m writing a YA fantasy called The Wildkin’s Curse, the long-awaited sequel to The Starthorn Tree.
My godson is practically obsessed with I Am. Would you ever consider writing another picture book?
Oh yes, I’ve got lots of ideas! I just never get a chance to sit down and play with them.
Do you prefer writing for children or adults?
I like writing for both. Each age group has different problems and challenges, and gives you different rewards. It means you never get bored and your writing stays fresh and vivid (or so I hope).
Time to choose between your children… what’s your favourite book you’ve written?
Of course I love all the books I’ve written but I’m also most deeply connected to the book I’ve just written which is of course The Puzzle Ring.
What’s the most annoying question you’re asked in interviews?
My favourite book … 😛
… And the most frustrating thing about being a writer?
How long it takes to actually write a book! If only I could write as fast as I think …
If you could claim any other writer’s work as your own, whose would it be?
The Puzzle Ring by Kate Forsyth
Thirteen-year-old Hannah discovers her family was cursed long ago. The only way to break the curse is to find the four lost quarters of the mysterious puzzle ring… To do this, Hannah must go back in time to the last tumultuous days of Mary, Queen of Scots, a time when witches were burnt, queens were betrayed and wild magic still stalked the land…
The Puzzle Ring is part of May’s giveaway prize pack. Complete the entry form HERE for your chance to win. Entries close 31 May, 2009.
Just a quick heads-up to say our first two exclusive Boomerang Books author interviews have been scheduled.
Later this week, I’ll be sitting down with Australia’s undisputed Queen of Fantasy, Kate Forsyth, to discuss her latest children’s release, The Puzzle Ring (which is part of our May Giveaway, so don’t forget to enter it HERE).
And this one’s for you, JayTay, a Twittexperiment of sorts. On Tuesday, May 12th, at 5p.m., I’ll be hopping onto Twitter and Twinterviewing (yes, I’m going to do that with all my Twitter-related words, the sooner you come to terms with that, the better) Simmone Howell, who, two books-deep, has proven herself to be a formidable force on the YA market. Her debut, Notes From the Teenage Underground won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Young Adult Literature 2007, and was brill, and her latest, Everything Beautiful, was my favourite book of last year. How does a Twinterview work? Well, you log onto Twitter at 5p.m., make sure you’re following both Simmone (postteen) and I (boomerangbooks), and you can watch our interview as it happens… You can even hurl her a few questions yourself.
Any authors you want me to hunt down for an interview? Leave a comment, or email me: [email protected].
So, Boomerang Books has a monthly book giveaway. This month, we’re giving away a great pack of new release books, including:
The Puzzle Ring by Kate Forsyth
Thirteen-year-old Hannah discovers her family was cursed long ago. The only way to break the curse is to find the four lost quarters of the mysterious puzzle ring… To do this, Hannah must go back in time to the last tumultuous days of Mary, Queen of Scots, a time when witches were burnt, queens were betrayed and wild magic still stalked the land… Keep an eye out later this week for our EXCLUSIVE interview with Kate Forsyth.
Believe by Raphael Aron
This book provides the reader with a unique insight into the mind and soul of a drug addict. It juxtaposes the lives of two addicts, using recorded personal and intimate experiences and emotions. Their eloquent diaries are published in the book together with the session notes of their counsellor and the author. The book reveals the raw nature of addiction and the hold it has over those who suffer from it.
Shimmer by Basia Bonkowski
A powerful story of love, life and loss by one of Australia’s most distinguished women. Step inside one woman’s very private world as Basia and her brothers gather to watch over their mother during the last fourteen days of her life. Heartrendingly poignant, Shimmer is touched with moments of humour and great insight, as author Basia Bonkowski comes to terms both with losing her mother and the heartbreak of her own personal journey. Basia’s lyrical prose and sharp eye for detail create an unforgettable account of her family over three generations. It is a moving tribute to the strength of the human spirit and the ties that bind.
Spirit Whispers by Charmaine Wilson
Spirit Whispers is the deeply moving and inspiring autobiography of Australian psychic medium Charmaine Wilson. This is the story of a truly gifted woman who discovers her extraordinary abilities the hard way. Along her excruciating journey, she is taught Life’s toughest lessons and eventually its deepest meaning. Charmaine’s story delivers an important message of hope and trust in what lies beyond.
Taxing Trails by Bernard Vrancken
Larry B. Max is an unusual specialist from a little-known branch of the Internal Revenue Service, the all-powerful tax-collecting agency of the United States. Reading into tax-evasion and money-laundering rings the way a virtuoso pianist would read a sheet of Mozart, Max has every technological method at his disposal to find links between high finance and high crime. In this first album, he must look into a particularly delicate file belonging to a rich Jewish-American, known for his involvement in recovering items that were confiscated by the Nazis. Dissecting this billionaire’s accounts, Max embarks on a dangerous journey to find the mysterious origins of the man’s immense fortune..
Nora Heysen: Light and Life by Jane Hylton
Nora Heysen grew up at The Cedars near the Adelaide Hills town of Hahndorf, and was deeply influenced by her father, Hans Heysen. Nora Heysen: Light and life explores a notable career spanning seven decades, during which the artist painted some of Australia’s most outstanding self-portraits, became the country’s first female war artist, and was the first woman to win the prestigious Archibald Prize.
To go into the draw to win this month’s prize, complete the entry form HERE. Entries close 31 May, 2009. Don’t forget, it’s a monthly giveaway, so be sure to favourite that link and keep visiting every month. Please note, entrants will be automatically subscribed to our fortnightly Boomerang Books Bulletin e-newsletter.
… A bonus for our Facebook friends
We’ve got extra copies of Shimmer and Taxing Trails to give away exclusively to our Facebook Group members this month. Join Now!
My name’s William Kostakis. I’ve been entrusted to help ‘throw the boomerang’. Avid followers of Boomerang Books will notice I’ll be popping up on the Twitter, Facebook, and here on the blog.
Boomerang Books prides itself on delivering a quality service to its customers, through online discounts and book giveaways, while helping promote the Australian publishing industry. It’ll be my job to produce original content for Boomerang Books over a range of different sites, but my presence will most obviously be felt here on the blog, where, if all goes to plan, we’ll be hosting exclusive author interviews, book reviews, short stories, literary event recaps – the possibilities are endless.
Here’s where you come in: What content would you like to be featured on the blog? We’ll strive to deliver that content. Who are your favourite Australian authors? We’ll hunt them down and interview them.
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a nineteen-soon-to-be-twenty-year-old young adult author based in Sydney. My debut, Loathing Lola, was released last year through Pan Macmillan. I’ve been blogging (and will continue to blog) over at my own site HERE. That’s more of a ‘this is what I’m doing today’ sort of blog, but my contributions to this blog will be more… I want to say ‘journalistic’, but it seems too serious a word? I’d love for this blog to evolve into a place where Aussie authors can meet their readers and share their stories, and I look forward to hearing your suggestions.
Watch this space.
(And also, if you have Twitter, don’t forget to start following us HERE. I’m looking at producing some content exclusively for our Twitter subscribers. It’s free, it’s fun and it’s horribly addictive…)
The ten novels selected for the Miles Franklin Literary Award 2009 longlist are:
Text Publishing Melbourne Australia
A Fraction of the Whole
Hamish Hamilton (Penguin Books)
Hamish Hamilton (Penguin Books)
Allen & Unwin
Allen & Unwin
one foot wrong
Allen & Unwin
The Devil’s Eye
Fourth Estate (HarperCollinsPublishers Australia)
Text Publishing Melbourne Australia
Allen & Unwin
Knopf (Random House Australia)
55 books were submitted for this year’s Award.
The shortlist will be announced Thursday 16 April at a media conference at the Galleries, State Library of NSW. The winner, who will receive $42,000, will be announced at a gala dinner Thursday 18 June.
Judges for this year’s Award are Professor Robert Dixon, Professor Morag Fraser AM, Lesley McKay, Regina Sutton and Murray Waldren.
The 2009 Miles Franklin Literary Award’s shortlisted authors and winner will again embark on a regional touring program made possible through the financial support of Australian copyright management company, Copyright Agency Limited (CAL).
This touring program – launched in 2007 – covers all Australian states and territories. The 2009 shortlist component will be announced in April
A recently released book, In Someone Else’s Shoes by Joseph Assaf was endorsed and discussed by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd at the recent Ethnic Business Awards.
Link to speech:
A STORY OF TWO REMARKABLE WOMEN, THEIR ILLUSTRIOUS CAREERS, THEIR FAMILIES, THEIR FRIENDS, AND THE MEN THEY LOVE Sarah Ryan is self-reliant and ambitious, with a head for business inherited from growing up in her grandmother’s shop in a remote Irish village. Jodi Tyler was raised on Sydney’s Northern beaches and from a young age pushed herself to excel at both sport and her studies. From different ends of the world, Sarah and Jodi have more in common than they’ll ever realise. Fast forward to the present day, and Sarah and Jodi have their sights set on the same job.
Both of them have something to prove; to themselves, their families, their friends and the lovers they left behind. The new job represents status, power and the ultimate achievement in their respective careers. It also represents how far they’ve come to triumph over the tragedies of their pasts – but at what cost to their personal lives? And so now it’s up to fate to decide who is the better woman for the job.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ber Carroll was born in Blarney, County Cork, and moved to Australia in 1995. She worked as a finance director in the information technology industry until the release of her first novel, Executive Affair. Her second book, Just Business, was published in Ireland and Germany and these novels, plus her third, High Potential, were released in Australia in 2008. Ber lives in Sydney’s Northern Beaches with her husband and two children.
Silas and the Winterbottoms is a fabulous gothic tale of three young cousins who are summoned by their evil Uncle Silas to spend the summer with him at Sommerset – his grand gothic estate perched on a mysterious island surrounded by an alligator-infested swamp. Silas Winterbottom, who has had virtually no contact with his extended family for decades (except to insult them or refuse their requests for money), is dying. It is his intention to select an heir from among his nieces and nephew – Isabella Winterbottom (13), Adele Fester-Winterbottom (12) and Milo Winterbottom (12). The Winterbottom children have very different backgrounds but each of them have motive for accepting Silas invitation: Adele’s family have been forced into exile in Tipping Point, Tasmania due to her mother’s unethical experiments with prize-winning poodles; Isabella and her father are accomplished criminals living a fraudulent life among London’s social elite and finally; Milo, orphaned after his parents were lost in a volcanic eruption, lives with his grandfather the Maestro in a tiny basement apartment in a London. One of the Winterbottoms believes Uncle Silas is a murderer; two of themwill do anything to win his favour and his fortune … and only one of them will be chosen. About the author
Stephen M. Giles is 36 and lives in Sydney. He describes himself as a “market researcher of staggering mediocrity”. Silas and the Winterbottoms is his first book.
I’m the kind who puts a book down before finishing the first chapter unless it really draws me in, and that can definitely be said for “Yellow Zone
“. The opening chapter jumps right into the style in which the book is entirely written, with the clever and witty yet easy to read format in which Janelle Dyer has provided.
Scott, the very amiable central character in the story, is at the scene of a shocking terrorist attack in Italy. He survives, but soon learns that the attack on Rome wasn’t an isolated one. Attacks take place all over the world, in the most powerful and populated locations. The battle then begins of trying to get back to Australia to find his family- if they also survived.
The story continues to create a bold, unsuspected and thought-provoking notion which makes for gripping reading. Janelle Dyer has achieved in making the most terrifying and surreal thought become a possibility. The charming characters she included in Yellow Zone add to the enjoyment of the read creating a sense of myself being involved in the plot. This book was a surprisingly exciting read, riddled with intelligent humour which resulted in me laughing out loud a number of times. I’m looking forward to Janelle’s future pulications.
Mascot Madness! (Schooling Around Book 3)
$14.99 B-format paperback
The Mascot Madness! Test:
1. Northwest Southeast Central School have never beaten Northwest West Academy at their annual track and field challenge because A: they’re better at knitting than they are at sport. B: they are losers. C: Northwest West Academy will stop at nothing to win.
2. Mr Brainfright dresses up in a banana suit and dances around because A: he’s bored. B: he goes bananas. C: he thinks it will inspire the students of Northwest Southeast Central School and lead them to victory.
3. When Henry McThrottle attempts the triple jump, instead of a hop, step and a jump he does A: a burp, a dribble and a sneeze. B: a twirl, a spin and the splits. C: a stumble, a trip and a fall.
4. Mascot Madness is A: a new type of dance. B: when a mascot gets angry. C: a very funny book about running, jumping, throwing, winning, losing, cheating, chasing, biting and really hard squeezing.
The answers to these questions – and many more – are contained between the covers of this very funny book about running, jumping, throwing, winning, losing, cheating, chasing, biting and really hard squeezing.
The Zoo of Magical and Mythological Creatures
$14.99 B-format paperback
An imaginative and hilarious fantasy from an exciting new voice in children’s literature.
Twelve-year-old Zackary is the seventh son of the King and Queen of Solaris, and a most reluctant knight. He would rather put anchovies in the knights helmets or use his sword to cut sandwiches than learn courtly ways. In despair, the King and Queen assign him to the castle administrator, Barnabas, who sends him on an errand to the Zoo of Magical and Mythological Creatures, established by Zackary’s grandfather.
Mistaken for a job applicant, Zackary starts working at the zoo with the resident sorcerer, Acacia. Powerful magic is needed to control some of the extraordinary creatures in the zoo: from the Stymphalian birds of Greek mythology and the nine-headed hydra, to manticores from India and the squonks – Drufflefuster, Gobblesnocks, Snivelsnork and Grimelgrout. These are the ugliest, most endearing, little creatures that will be encountered in a children’s book in 2009.
But just as Zackary is settling in to his double life, a shadow is cast across the entire kingdom with the news that a strange creature is expected at the zoo-a creature which spreads evil and destruction in its path.
Allie Finkle’s Rules for Girls 3: Best Friends and Drama Queens
$14.99 B-format paperback
The third fabulous book in bestselling author Meg Cabot’s funny and sassy series for tweens!
Allie is excited when Cheyenne joins her class-now she won’t have to be the “new girl” any more! But Cheyenne wears zip-up boots, likes boys, thinks imaginary games are for “big babies” and tells everyone what to do. Still, Allie won’t be bossed around – it’s time to teach the “new girl” some tough rules! Such as…
1) Friendly people don’t tell other people that their games are babyish;
2) Snowboots may not look as good as high-heeled zip-up boots, but they will never let you down; and
3) Friends are all you need.
Jack: What’s the best thing you’ve ever missed out on because you couldn’t stop writing? Sleep? A sibling’s wedding? Boston Legal?
Will: I’ve missed a few birthday parties, I know that. The angry, drunken “THAT’S IT . . . WE’RE OVER! O-V-A-H!” text messages/phone calls are never fun, but I always make sure their pressie is twice as good to make up for it. Oh, and sleep. Half of Loathing Lola was written in a sleep-deprived haze. Granted, most of the stuff I wrote at 3am was cut at 10am the next morning when I realised that making up words like “gjdhfdscdas” wasn’t so much me being inventive and postmodern so much as it was me falling asleep on top of the keyboard. I’ve yet to find the balance between having a life and writing, but I’m still young. I’ve got heaps of time to find it.
Jack: Indeed. Are any of the characters based on or inspired by people you know? And if so, did you reveal anything embarrassing about them?
Will: I’m sure some characters inherited something from people I know, but on the whole, I tried to keep my real-life friends and family separate from Courtney’s friends and family. Well, except the grandmother character. I don’t think I even attempted to disguise that inspiration. Yiayia Susie is mannerism-for-mannerism, word-for-word, an identical replica of my grandmother, Yiayia Susie (see what I said before about not even attempting to disguise it?). And she loves it. She’s got her copy of the book, and every time someone comes over, she flicks it open to one of the ear-marked pages Yiayia Susie’s featured on and forces people to read to her, one, because she’s insanely proud, and two, because she can’t read. As for revealing anything embarrassing about her, I wouldn’t dare . . . she’s a deceptively strong woman. But yeah, I’m considering just sending her around to do all my publicity. She’s a riot and plus, get her started on the “My grandson . . . ” tangent and she won’t stop.
Jack: Been there. Which do you spend more time daydreaming about – the plot of your next book, or the glory when it’s published?
Will: There’s something so exciting about plotting another book. I guess that’s the most important thing to daydream about, without the good plot, there’s no glory. But, I’m guilty of thinking about the glory WAY more than the next plot. My bad.
Jack: It’s cool, I do that too. If someone totally ripped off your idea and wrote a book just like Loathing Lola, would you be flattered, or would you come down on them with the fury of a thousand suns?
Will: I’d send Yiayia Susie after them.
Jack: (laughs) Now that you’re a huge success, are you going to drop out of uni? Or does education have some value other than procrastinating while you wait for your real life to start?
Will: Huge success? *William feels his head inflate so much that his nose is now in proportion with it.* Honestly, I love uni. Not the workload so much as everything else. All my friends are there, the bar is cheap, latenight assignmenting can actually be fun on account of said cheap bar.
Jack: Ever get good marks on those late-night cheap-bar assignments?
Will: Actually yeah, not bad.
Jack: If you ever had to write an autobiography, what bits would you exaggerate? And what bits would you leave out entirely?
Will: See, I’d never trust myself with my own autobiography. I have this idea where, if a publishing house is really desperate for a biography, I’ll round up ten friends and ten people who can’t stand the sight of me, and have them each write a chapter about me. That stops me from being a revisionist about the whole thing and smoothing over the bumps in the road, and I think it’s the only way it can be a truly honest representation of my life.
Jack: Do you ever live vicariously through your characters? Make them say things you wish you’d said, and so forth?
Will: I have this horrible habit of shooting straight from the lip, so sometimes, characters are just repeating some of the inappropriate things I’ve said. Or at least, that’s what they used to do, but the more I wrote Loathing Lola, the characters developed further . . . into people who weren’t me, and they developed different mannerisms and speech patterns, and they weren’t just mouthpieces for me to say whatever I wanted through them.
I like to think that they say whatever they want through me.
Jack: Okay. Harry Potter – so good, or no good?
Will: Azkaban is brilliant. Also a great movie. The rest are a little hit-and-miss. I mean, they’re all great the first time through, but Azkaban stands the test of re-reading. Pheonix . . . not so much. As a whole though, the series is great. I hated the epilogue though.
Jack: I thought it was okay. But I’m a sentimental old fool. So who’s your favourite writer? Is it you? Better yet, is it me?
Will: Sorry, Jack, but at the moment, it’s Terry Pratchett. The man can do no wrong. He mixes magic with side-splittingly funny innuendo. ‘Nuf said. But you ain’t too bad yourself . . .
WILLIAM INTERVIEWS JACK
Will: If you had to describe yourself, without alluding to the fact that you are both an author and freakishly young to have three books out, what would you say?
Jack: At parties I often lie about my occupation and say that I’m a concrete mixer or an etiquette consultant or a zoo enclosure analyst. But if I was being truthful, without mentioning the books, I’d say I’m just a somewhat shy uni drop-out with a lot of ideas but very little follow-through. Ironically, it’s likely no-one would believe me.
Will:The Lab and Remote Control – both action-packed, adrenaline-pumping rollercoaster rides with strong characters – which do you prefer writing . . . the mindless explosions or the character-building high-browy stuff?
Jack: Ooh, that’s a tough one. It’s hard to separate the two – the explosions are boring if the characters aren’t developed, but even well developed characters are boring if they never explode. Or nothing explodes near them, or whatever. Since you’ve forced my hand, I’d have to say I enjoy writing the action scenes most. Because I can read them again and really feel the excitement. Whereas when I read my own character-development passages, I’m just getting told things I already know.
Will:Is Money Run more of the same, genre-wise and stylistically? If not, what’s in it for fans of Agent Six of Hearts?
Jack: Money Run has the same core goals – exciting action, intricate characters, nail-biting dilemmas. But the sci-fi angle has been replaced by gritty realism, and there’s more focus on the villains. The language is more experimental, as well, and the story is told from several points of view, which is something I’ve never done before. So yeah, it’s different. Agent Six fans will just have to trust me.
Will: We all know that you spent a long time writing and perfecting The Lab . . . what was the process of writing Money Run? Were you working on it while you developed the others, or is it a fairly recent project?
Jack: I actually started Money Run when I was 17, before The Lab was published. When I was offered a contract, I put the project on hold while I edited The Lab and wrote Remote Control. That was good, because Money Run is more complex than the other books, so the break gave me time to plan. It helped the ideas mature, like a fine wine, or like a bottle of milk left out in the Sun.
Will: How do you write? Do you set time for writing, lock yourself in the attic with a bottle of wine, a pen and a stack of lined pages, or do you just wait for the bursts of creativity – usually resulting in frantic note-taking on napkins / limbs?
Jack: I set some time, and then I switch on my laptop and unplug it. It has a 90 minute battery, and I don’t get up until it shuts itself down. If I have no ideas, I do push-ups or go jogging to chase some down, and that usually gets the job done. Every now and again I wake up in the middle of the night with a great idea, and so I get out of bed, find a pen and scribble it on myself before going back to sleep. Unfortunately, in the morning, these midnight gems are usually either incomprehensible or crap.
Will: If you had to rewrite one well-known book or movie . . . which one would you choose, and what would you do?
Jack: I’d love to do a novelisation of a video game, like Portal or Metal Gear Solid. In the former I’d give the mute main character a back story; in the latter, I’d get some of the overly talkative minor characters and take their back stories away. As for movies, I’d like to rewrite something that had a good story but a bad script, like Swordfish, or Silent Hill.
Will: Say you cooked up the ideas for The Lab, Remote Control and Money Run, but were an absolutely horrible writer . . . and you could choose one writer to write them for you, who would you choose? Would they all be written by the same person?
Jack: Matthew Reilly, of course. No one else writes with that much raw energy. But I guess it would depend on which ideas I already had, because different writers are good at different things. If I’d planned out the action scenes but I needed someone to make the characters interesting, I’d choose Chuck Palahniuk. And if I had the characters already but wanted to make the book scarier, I’d pick Dean Koontz. And if I had pretty much everything but wanted to turn the books into comedies, I’d choose Scott Adams, the author of Dilbert. I think together we could make the funniest and most surreal sci-fi series in history.
Will: Something a little less mind-numbingly complicated . . . what were you doing right before this interview? Was it fun, and do you wish you were still doing it?
Jack: I was cooking. I have very little talent for it, but I make up for that with enthusiasm. Or at least, I think that makes up for it – but my friends don’t come over anymore. Not since I cooked them nachos made with cornflakes instead of corn chips.
Will: The Twilight series . . . what do you think?
Jack: I don’t like fantasy, or romance, or vampires (they’re just zombies for pansies. Diet-zombie. Zombie-lite.) As such, I’ve avoided reading Twilight – but enough people are talking about it now that maybe I should give it a chance. I liked Buffy, after all. So yeah, I’ll have to get back to you on this one.
Will: What’s next for you? Do you envision Money Run as a one-off thing? Are you interested in a sequel? Have fans of Agent Six of Hearts read the last of him?
Jack: I try to treat each book as a stand-alone thing. But the characters of Money Run all have good reason to be mad at one another by the end (those who survive, anyhow) and it’d be a shame to let that conflict go unexploited. Maybe they’ll have a chance to get even in a future book. And as for Agent Six, well, you can’t keep a good character down. I know this is a cliche, but he sometimes seems to have a life of his own – and if I stopped writing about him, he might reach out of the page and break my neck. (Never mess with a superhuman.) So I don’t think the City has heard the last of him.
The magical world of Enid Blyton has been reimagined for a new generation with the ‘Enchanted World’ series (from February). Hardie Grant Egmont’s marketing manager, Natasha Besliev, says: ‘This is not just a new fairy series. The classic Blyton magic, solid storylines, well-rounded characters and strong elements of friendship are the perfect recipe for a new collectable series on which both parents and children can agree.’
A comic adventure story of a reluctant knight, a fantastical zoo, and a sorcerer’s assistant is The Zoo of Magical and Mythological Creatures by Sam Bowring (Pan, March). Also in March from The Five Mile Press is a companion to the bestselling Dragonology called Dragon Diary (Dougald A Steer).
A&U is ‘very excited’ to welcome Justine Larbalestier with the ‘hilarious, original, enchanting’ How to Ditch your Fairy—‘urban teenage humour at its best’.
Maryann Ballytyne from Black Dog Books says ‘We have the beginnings of a fantasy trilogy—“The Strangers of Paragor”. The first book is Arrival (March). The trilogy is written by an extremely talented young woman Charlotte McConaghy and is really pushing all the fantasy genre buttons.’
Fifteen-year-old Courtney Marlow didn’t exactly think it through. She thought the offer to have her life broadcast on national television was the perfect solution to her family’s financial troubles. She was wrong. Mackenzie Dahl, the show’s producer, promised to show Australia a real teenager. Courtney was going to be a positive role model, someone on television without a boob job and an eating disorder. But as events in her life are deviously manipulated to create drama, Courtney begins to realise that ‘ordinary’ does not translate to ‘entertaining’. Everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame via a little bit of Courtney – especially her conniving friend Katie, and her stepmother, Lola. But Courtney is not the pliant teenager everyone seems to think she is…A funny, edgy, completely compelling novel.
Here’s a free extract from the book:
The following message was just received from the Brisbane Writers’ Festival:
As 2009 rolls on and everyone here in the office is happily dreaming and planning for September, we spare a thought for all those who have experienced destruction and loss in North Queensland and Victoria. In a time when so many feel heart ache we here at BWF have joined forces with our 2008 partners Clayton Utz Lawyers on a special project, and would greatly appreciate your help.
Together with Clayton Utz Lawyers we are currently collecting children’s books for an anonymous women’s refuge here in Brisbane. In a secure location this organisation provides safe and nurturing accommodation for women and children who are experiencing domestic violence. Women and children who arrive are traumatised and uncertain about their future.
With this in mind, at the beginning of March we are going to send the refuge as many as books for children aged 15 years and under. We seek your assistance in whatever hope and joy these books may bring into their lives. If you would like to help, please send any of your pre-loved or freshly purchased children/young adult books to the office (details below), by the 27th of February 2009.
Deliver books to:
Brisbane Writers Festival
12 Merivale Street
South Brisbane QLD 4101
Post books to:
Attn: Charis Holt
Brisbane Writers Festival
PO Box 3453
South Brisbane QLD 4101
BWF is happy and proud to be working with you, our supporters, and Clayton Utz Lawyers to bring hope and joy to the lives of others.
From the bottom of our hearts we say thank you!
All the best,
the BWF Team.