FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE STARTS TOMORROW!

Tomorrow, we start our FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE at Kids’ Book Capers –  and this week, it’s all about streets and ducks.

I can’t wait to talk about some new releases in the wonderful world of kids’ books.

We’re going to be blogging every Friday and greeting new arrivals to the book shelves.

Discover Trudie Trewin’s quirky new picture book Wibbly Wobbly Street which has been beautifully illustrated by Cheryl Orsini.

We’ll also be taking a waddle down the road with Duck for a Day written by Meg McKinlay with gorgeous illustrations by Leila Ridge.

Look forward to seeing you then.

Dee

Review: International Kindle

As much as I would like to review my brand new iPad for this column, I feel that I haven’t yet had enough time to wrap my head around it, so I’m going to start my series of ereader reviews with Amazon’s International Kindle.

The Kindle has been around for quite a while now, first with the US-only Kindle 1, then the US-only Kindle 2 and the DX (the A4-sized reader). Late last year they finally opened up to the rest of the world with the international versions of the Kindle 2 and Kindle DX. As mentioned earlier, Amazon did not consult with any publishing companies or even the local telecommunications companies before launching the Kindle internationally – they struck an international roaming deal with AT&T in the United States in order to arrange wireless internet on the devices, and used their existing catalogue of books (which they have gone on to remove from many local Kindle stores because of territorial copyright claims).

Despite this, in comparison to other ereader devices available in Australia, the Kindle experience is overall the best (for now, at least).

The Kindle is an e-ink type ereader. This means that the screen is not backlit, and simulates the look of a page. For those who haven’t seen this technology before, it’s not quite as good as a printed page. It looks a bit like a giant calculator screen. The upside is you can read it in direct sunlight, and you can read it for hours without giving yourself eyestrain (or running the battery down – with wireless turned off, my Kindle runs for about two weeks without needing a charge). The other features of the Kindle are pretty standard – you can search your ebook, there’s dictionary support and you can highlight and make notes on your books as you go. It also has rudimentary free wireless internet access – which in Australia can only be used to search the Kindle Store and buy books. The Kindle can even read your books to you in a haunting computer voice that will probably give you flashbacks to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The Kindle Store is the most comprehensive source of ebooks in Australia at present. Additionally, with a few simple tweaks it is quite easy for Kindle users to get around territorial copyright restrictions to get access to the full 450,000-book range of the US store (a pretty big drawcard, at least until Australian publishers make their content available to Amazon and other vendors in Australia). There are positives and negatives to the Kindle way of buying books. Obviously there are DRM issues, but that goes for every generalist ebook store at the moment. However, in addition to this, Amazon uses a proprietary ebook format and DRM that they purchased from Mobipocket (another ebook store, now going the way of the dinosaurs). What this means, for those of you scratching your heads, is that unless you crack the DRM on a Kindle book, you will never read it with non-Amazon software.

Additionally, the Kindle is incapable of reading any other form of DRM except its own. This means that if you buy a book from Barnes & Noble or Kobo or Dymocks you will not be able to read them on your Kindle (again, this is assuming you do not crack the DRM on your ebooks, and most people will not). This is Amazon’s way of keeping you in the family – they maintain the biggest range of ebooks, woo customers in and then lock them in forever. Apple did the exact same thing with the iTunes Music Store and the iPod – and Amazon are fighting to win in the ebook wars.

So basically the Kindle is a double-edged sword. It is feature rich, content rich and is cheaper than most other ebook readers available in Australia. However, it is fraught with problems: a lack of content on its Australian ebook store, DRM lock-in evil juju and even Orwellian removal of books after you have purchased them. Having said that, if you’re in the market for a dedicated e-ink reader – the Kindle is your best bet. If you’re sitting on the fence about ebooks at the moment – hold off for now (and read my iPad review when it goes up in a week or so).

The shameless self-promotion post

At the end of my last post I said that I would next be blogging about what my family and I had been reading. Well, I will… but not today. For today I’m slipping in an extra post — a post in which I shall shamelessly promote my book signing this coming Saturday.

As you may or may not know, I’m an author. In October last year, my teen novel, Gamers’ Quest, was published by Ford Street Publishing (to find out more about Ford Street check out the latest post on Kids’ Book Capers). Since then I’ve been promoting my little heart out. I’m exhausted but I’m still at it. Frankly, the whole promotion thing is way more difficult than the actual writing! But it’s a necessary part of the process, especially when you’re an unknown author (George? George who?) with a small publisher.

Click to see full-size image.

Gamers’ Quest – that’s my book in case you’d forgotten – is a science fiction, action/adventure with a healthy dose of fantasy thrown in. I wrote it with young teens in mind but it’s suitable for ages 10+. It’s the sort of book that I, as a Space Invaders obsessed teen, would have loved reading! I’m hoping that the current crop of computer game-playing kids will like it as it’s set within the multiple worlds of a sophisticated virtual reality computer game.

Gamers’ Quest has got it all — dragons, mages, lasers, drones, starfighters, a giant robotic spider, lethal shrubbery and even a bit of toad-flinging. Doesn’t that just make you want to rush out and buy a copy this very instant? Come on, you know you want to! Perhaps it’s time for me to shut up and just give you the signing details…

BOOK SIGNING — GAMERS’ QUEST
Come and meet George Ivanoff — author of the Chronos Award-winning science fiction novel for kids and teens, Gamers’ Quest.

Location: Angus & Robertson Ringwood bookstore (Shop L026a) in Eastland Shopping Centre, Victoria

Date: Saturday 8 May 2010

Time: 11.30am-12.30pm

To find out more about Gamers’ Quest, check out the website. And take a look at the trailer:

So come along and meet me. You can tell me in person how much you love reading my blog! Or you can get my autograph — it’s bound to be worth at least a couple of cents some time in the next 20 years. Or you could come along simply to heckle… “Hey George, is that a tumble-weed I just saw rolling past?”

Anyway… thank you, dear readers, for indulging my little lapse into self-promotion. I promise not to do it too often.  🙂  And sincere thanks to Boomerang Books.

Tune in next time when Literary Clutter will return to its regular programming.

Catch ya later,  George

Angels in Literature: Who Dares Disturb Their Slumber?

I noticed recently that Boomerang Books had twittered about a book trailer for The Gargoyle, by Andrew Davidson. Released back in 2008, I read the book as soon as I could get my hands on it because the blurb just sounded so damn good:

The nameless narrator of The Gargoyle is driving along a dark road when he is distracted by what seems to be a flight of arrows. He crashes into a ravine and wakes up in a burns ward, undergoing the tortures of the damned. His life is over – he is now a monster. One day, Marianne Engel, a wild and compelling sculptress of gargoyles, enters his life and tells him that they were once lovers in medieval Germany. As she spins her tale, Scheherazade fashion, and relates equally mesmerising stories of deathless love in Japan, Greenland, Italy and England, he finds himself drawn back to life – and, finally, to love.

This strange debut offering – which had such a high-falutin’ storyline – turned out to be compulsively readable. From the first sentence the book leapt free of the Gothic Classic narrative I’d been banking on, and was testing its wings in an entirely more modern context. And it may have been more of a shock, because the narrator wasn’t some damsel-in-distress wooed by a chance at love, it was a Hollywood heartthrob with a face of ash, being wooed by an excaped patient from the psychiatric ward next door. So yeah, romance can happen in all places, to all types of people. And this message gave The Gargoyle its ability to enter massmarket fiction for adults. Indeed, it was the first time since the 90s (when angels were popular for the ‘Hard Rock Goths’), that I sensed the concept of a winged being had embarked on a dark road: one to commercial success (excess).

Gargoyles; vampires; angels; demons; concepts of heaven and hell, have all experienced a resurgence in literature. Gothic is all the rage right now, for some reason. You could perhaps, credit Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Gothic poem Christabel (one of me faves) as the stirring of vampires in the 1800s. From there, friend and contemporary Mary Shelley produced Frankenstein, Sheridan Le Fanu was inspired to write a cracking novella titled ‘Carmilla’, and this in turn is said to have partly influenced a book you may know: Dracula, by Bram Stoker.

While Twilight may have awoken the sleeping dead for teenagers and starry-eyed 20- and 30-something women, word around the book blog traps has been that angels, riding on the coattails of the humanised vampire, are ready for a descent themselves. Not only a descent into the world of teens, mind you, but with a plan for fantasy fiction world takeover (including all its subgenre cities).

I don’t know just yet if angels are indeed the new vampires, but the whole religious idea and how it has been translated into popular culture definitely deserves some further investigation. Why are they popular again? How do they differ from their original concept? Religious connotations of heaven and hell, as alluded to in The Gargoyle, also requires some exploration.

Grab a shovel, and get ready to do some digging. Stay tuned for future angelic/demonic posts – it’s a heaven/hell extravaganza!

THE FORD STREET PUBLISHING STORY

Today, Paul Collins is back at Kid’s Book Capers wearing his publisher’s hat.

Paul, can you tell us about your journey as a publisher?

I self-published my first novel in the 70s, then a magazine called Void. By the early 80s I was publishing Australia’s first heroic/epic fantasy novels. In those days the major publishers didn’t distribute small presses, so we were forced to use minor distributors. In 2006, Macmillan Distribution Services agreed to distribute my books. I’ve returned to what I love doing: publishing.

Paul, you are the publisher at Ford Street Publishing. What type of books does Ford Street publish?

I like issues-based novels, like Big and Me (mental health); My Private Pectus (male body image); They Told Me I Had To Write This (wayward youth); f2m (transgender). All of these have been good performers for Ford Street, yet rejected by major publishers.

The Star, by Felicity Marshall was rejected by leading, well-regarded editors, yet it has just sold 4000 copies to a book club and is set to be Ford Street’s best-seller.

What do you enjoy most about being a publisher?

When I write a novel, I’m at the mercy of a publisher. I’ve had a manuscript with HarperCollins since mid last year, and I’ve still not had an answer. I hate to think what’s happening to lesser-known authors who have their MS sitting in slush piles around the country.

With publishing, I’m in control. I don’t rely on anyone. I can orchestrate my business practices as I see fit, and I hope there’s not a person who can say I’ve not treated them fairly. Ford Street’s best-selling books were all rejected by major publishers, so it’s a thrill to see them shine.

What’s the hardest part about being a publisher?

Although I have Macmillan distributing my books, not all booksellers stock Ford Street titles. No matter how good a book is, if it’s not in the shops it’s not going to sell. I have books that have been short-listed by the NSW, VIC Premiers’ awards, and the NT Read Award, yet the books were never really in the shops. The books aren’t reaching their full potential, and this isn’t the fault of the author or the publisher.

What are some of Ford Street’s greatest achievements?

Getting short-listed for major awards; selling foreign rights; selling big numbers to a book club and in 99% of cases, getting fantastic reviews. One title, Solace & Grief by Foz Meadows, is currently going gang-busters. I’m looking forward to publishing book #2 in the trilogy.

How do you help authors promote their work?

Ford Street authors are well represented in kid lit magazines/journals like Viewpoint, Magpies, SCAN, SAETA, Reading Time, Junior Bookseller and Publisher, OzKids in Print, etc. I also promote them heavily online with guest blogs, interviews and reviews. Whereas major publishers might send out 30 to 40 review books, I send out up to 80. Consequently, you’ll see a lot of Ford Street books getting reviewed. I also submit most of my titles to awards, and have a presence on facebook and Twitter. Teachers’ Notes and trailers – there’s a stack of way to promote authors. With a small press, every author is on the A-list.

How are publishers like Ford Street going to be affected by the evolving print publishing industry?

I see a time in the not-so-distant future, when print publishing will be dominated by small presses. Sales are definitely declining, and I don’t think they can sustain bigger publishing houses that have huge overheads. I like the fact that I’m in on what I think is the ground floor of print publishing’s future.

Thanks so much for visiting us, Paul. Between your writing and publishing you must be very busy, so I really appreciate the time you have taken to chat with me at Kids’ Book Capers. I look forward to reading more of your books and future Ford Street titles.

Dee

FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE STARTS THIS FRIDAY WITH STREETS AND DUCKS

Since we started Kids’ Book Capers, there have been so many interesting things happening on the Kids’ book scene and so many fascinating people to chat to. So we haven’t had time to talk about all the great new releases.

That’s why Kids’ Book Capers will also be blogging on Fridays  with our new Friday Book Feature where we’ll be greeting new arrivals to the book shelves.

To kick things off this Friday we’re going to be talking about Trudie Trewin’s quirky new picture book Wibbly Wobbly Street which has been beautifully illustrated by Cheryl Orsini.

We’ll also be looking at the heartwarming, Duck for a Day written by Meg McKinlay with gorgeous illustrations by Leila Ridge.

Look forward to seeing you then.

Dee

Does Size Matter?

Wolf HallUntil recently, book size wasn’t something that I noticed. If I wanted to read it, I wanted to read it. And very often the larger the book the better. After all, there’s nothing worse than finishing a good book too quickly and then finding yourself in the post-good book void.

But it’s in finding myself with fewer and fewer hours in the day to devote to reading (yep, growing up sucks) and my pile of books to read ever growing (partly due to my good fortune to be able to review books, but mostly due to my penchant for purchasing books before I’ve had time to read the ones already in the pile), that I’m starting to wonder if size does matter.

My always-spritely, avid-reader grandmother is now 93 and is starting to become frail. This year my mother’s instructions for her Christmas book present purchase was not which book she’d like but that I should select something that wasn’t—a consideration I’d never before encountered and which saddened me greatly—too heavy for her to hold up.

When I worked as a bookseller, parents desperate to get their children reading would screw up their noses at books even slightly more than wafter thin that might seem, like a mountain, insurmountable to their reluctant reader. Once one woman wanted a refund on a stack of mass market books she had bought to take on holiday because they would be ‘too heavy’ and take up ‘too much room’ in her suitcase. Why this hadn’t occurred to her when she selected, purchased, and then carried the books home, I don’t know. As someone who’d sacrifice clothes, toiletries, and underpants before I’d take out books, I was, well, a little incredulous.

But as I find myself having to choose my next book carefully, I’m starting to size up my books as much for their page length as their compelling content. I’m selecting books that I can get through quickly, in part to make myself feel as though I’m accomplishing something. Mostly, though, it’s because I’m so physically and mentally sapped that I’m flat out staying awake for more than a few pages and am unlikely to remember what happened at the beginning of the book by the time I’ve gotten to the end.

I keep telling myself that I’m saving the longer books for the holidays—say, for example, Hilary Mantel’s Booker prize-winning tome Wolf Hall—but as a freelancer my holidays are few and far between and Wolf Hall and its counterparts are likely to sit gathering dust for some time. Which makes me wonder if every other time-poor ‘adult’ (and I use that term loosely because I’m not yet convinced that I am one) is in the same boat? Do we live by the mantra that size—specifically, the smaller the better—does matter?

Word of Mouth – a celebration of the food and wine books

The 8 day food festival, “Tasting Australia” has opened here in Adelaide with one of the biggest events being the “Feast for the Senses”, a two day extravaganza of food and drink held on the banks of the River Torrens over the weekend just past.  This is an enormously popular event, attracting thousands looking for a picnic treat in the autumn sunshine.    There were queues aplenty as I pushed my way through the feeding frenzy, gradually making my way over to a marquee at the far side where a more sedate consumption of words was taking place at “Word of Mouth” – a celebration of the spoken and written word in food and wine-related matters.

I managed to catch a little of a session on food security and sustainability, featuring cookbook writers Julie Biuso (NZ) and Jill Norman (UK) and the indefatigable Peter Cundall, who addressed what they see as the imperative of growing our own food.   Jill Norman pointed out that, with the recent cessation of international flights in Europe as a result of the Icelandic volcano, many fresh fruit and vegetables have become unavailable in the UK – a situation that would not be so critical if there were a return to the home growing of seasonal produce, rather than their reliance on imported products all year round.   This was followed by the session about food/travel journalism where “Selector” magazine publisher Paul Diamond, journalist Winsor Dobbin and writer Paul Mercurio  disabused the listeners of any notions they may have had about travel writing being merely “junkets”!  There was general despair about the amount of commercial “puff pieces” and advertorials in current travel journalism, with the panel advising any potential food or travel writers to be stringent in their checking of facts before submitting any written pieces for publication.

The final panel I sat in on for the day was a very popular discussion about Spanish cuisine.  The speakers were Melbourne chef Frank Camorra and writer Richard Cornish – authors of the multi-award winning “Movida” and their latest book, “Movida Rustica” – and John Barlow, author of “Everything But the Squeal”.    The Movida Madrilena was a movement that took place in Spain after Franco’s death and represented the resurrection of the Spanish economy and identity.  Spanish food, both traditional and modern, has become a significant marker of this and the conversation centred around how and why this is so.  Camorra pointed out that there are 17 different autonomous communities within Spain, each with their own regional languages and cuisines and each having wide autonomy to enable them to maintain their distinctions and diversities.  John Barlow’s book, “Everything But the Squeal” is a testament to this and he spoke of his experiences in Galicia as he travelled around the province endeavouring to eat every part of their  principal source of meat – the pig!  Camorra and Cornish both spoke of how tactile the food culture of Spain is.  There is a significant focus on food sharing and physical closeness and a habit of touching the food – with much eating with fingers!  It is  a culture which engages in a great deal of discourse about food, with cooking and dining being constant sources of discussion.  Camorra also spoke warmly of the generosity of the people when it came to sharing their food and recipes.  He and Cornish travelled extensively in the regional areas when compiling their latest book and frequently found it a great struggle to move on as their various hosts pressed them with food, wine and conversation.  Clearly a labour of love, this book, “Movida Rustica”, is a celebration of Spanish traditions and traditional cuisines and last night was awarded a prestigious “Gold Ladle” award at the Le Cordon Bleu World Food Media Awards for Best Hard Cover Recipe Book (over 35 Euro)!

Real life reading

At my house-warming, people commented the fact that my bookshelves are full not of novels and fiction (although there is plenty of them there too) but what I like to call Real Life Reads. How-tos and travelogues, biographies and historical reconstructions, science, philosophy and psychology, oh my!  Why do I find non-fiction so appealing? It could be that – in spite of what all the fiction told me – I never got a pony for my birthday.

I am still very bitter about this. I got books about ponies* and girls with ponies, and specifically girls who got ponies for their birthday. This lead to certain expectations being built. Every Christmas and birthday I’d wake up early and then sprint to my bedroom window, hoping to see a pony out the back garden. I even expected it to have a big red bow around its neck.

This would probably have more pathos if I hadn’t continued doing it until I was seventeen or so.

But false promises of ponies aside, there is nothing wrong with a bit of fiction. I love a good chick-lit read, adore fantasy and horror, and you’ll need to peel me off the satire and humour books with a stick. But books don’t just mean novels, and it is real world reading that fascinates me most. I’m a sucker for business and psychology books and any books that explain scientific discoveries in an entertaining way aren’t safe around me. Travelogues inspire me to take off and see the world, and memoirs let me see it from someone else’s perspective.

I may be a little too fond of books. Friends hide their non-fiction when I come over to the house. Autobiographies try to hide and cookbooks tremble their glossy and delicious looking pages in fear.

I haven’t always been this way. If someone had told me when I was in school (all sulky and spotty and smuggling my Stephen King’s in to read under the desk) that I would someday find non-fiction books fascinating, I would have… well, I would have probably ignored them and continued reading my Stephen King book. But here I am, ten years on, with a love of non-fiction that borders on the obsessive; biographies and travelogues, memoirs and how-to’s and textbooks, oh my!

Perhaps my voracious fiction habit as a child and teenager led to this – I know that Elyne Mitchell’s evocative Silver Brumby series, set in the Snowy Mountains, was at least part of the reason I was interested in seeing Australia and my love of Stephen King’s horrror eventually led me to his memoir, On Writing, where I found the truth of his life just as fascinating as his books . It started with fiction but my reading habits are now in love with real life reads and all that they can do.

Here at Read Up On It. I’m hoping to create an entertaining celebration of reading and a place to share my love of books, specifically my love of non-fiction. The ability of books to inform while entertaining is something that I look forward to exploring further here, and to hearing your recommendations. If you have a real life book you think everyone should read, give a shout-out in the comments and let me know.

Books about ponies, of course, are especially welcome.

Monday Round-Up 3/05/10

Another Monday, another Round-Up. how was everybody’s weekend?

Happy reading!

Featured posts
War—What Is It Good For?
Reinventing The Wheel

Featured posts
A SLIGHTLY SKEWED INTERVIEW

Featured posts
Thirty seconds to Marrs
Why I have not read Twilight

Featured posts
REVIEW: Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

Featured posts
The Movie Curse
For the Love of the Chunkster

Featured posts
Literary Feuds – Popular Authors at Dawn (or Twilight)
Potplants, red in tooth and claw

Featured posts
How I Cracked The Slap And Lived To Tell About It
Books: Just ‘Fodder For Digital Chatter’?

We’re calling for submissions from the general public. Boomerang Books will publish up to 10 articles each month on its Guest Blog from public submissions. Want your name in lights? Want to have your article put in front of 12,000+ Australian book enthusiasts? Contribute a piece to the Boomerang Books Guest Blog today! Click here for all submission guidlines.

Featured posts
Three Wakefield Press books nominated for Le Cordon Bleu World Food media Awards

How I Cracked The Slap And Lived To Tell About It

One of the first Australian ebooks I ever purchased legitimately through an Australian e-tailer was The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas. And in order to read it I had to crack the DRM. DRM (digital rights management) is the extra bit of software attached to ebooks to stop people from copying digital products as they like. It’s a divisive issue, but it is at the centre of publishing ebooks in Australia.

At the time it was the only place I could find this book electronically (legitimately – there were plenty of pirated copies floating about). I was about to travel overseas with my Kindle and wanted to bring it with me without carrying the whole book. The book was sold as PDF with DRM by Adobe. Before I bought the book I googled whether it would be possible to crack the DRM, as I knew my iPhone and Kindle were not capable of reading the DRM on a PDF. There are thousands of people around the world interested in this kind of thing, so it took only a few minutes before I’d downloaded the software, downloaded the book and had cracked it using the software. These kinds of cracking programs pop up with different software authors every few months before getting shut down and then reopening somewhere else. They’re very difficult to stop, and I believe that as long as there is DRM there will be people willing to spend time and effort cracking it and making it available on the internet. From what I’ve read there is not a single major type of DRM that has not been cracked (the DRM used on the iPad is the only one that I haven’t seen a crack for – but I’m sure the situation is temporary).

All in all this is not something the average internet user would be bothered doing. Instead, they just wouldn’t buy the book at all. The current crop of people who read ebooks in Australia don’t significantly overlap with readers of paper books. If I want a book electronically, I either get it electronically or not at all.

The cracking process wasn’t difficult, but it helped to know a bit about the ins and outs of ebook formats and computers in general. However, the longer ebooks are available, and the more ubiquitous ebook readers become, the more readily available and easy-to-use these types of software packages will become. DRM generally makes early adopters pretty angry with publishers and record labels, because it makes the process unnecessarily difficult for legitimate purchasers. In general it is far easier to download a pre-cracked pirated version of a book than it is to crack the DRM on a legitimate purchase. DRM tends to push early adopters towards the easiest option – which in this case happens to be illegal.

I prefer to buy legitimate copies of books, because they tend to be formatted and typeset properly, unlike the scanned and digitised copies you are likely to see on pirate book websites. The care and attention given to them is (or should be) equal to a published book, and it pays off while you’re reading. However, I’m increasingly frustrated by DRM. Most of the people I know reading ebooks are doing so on their iPhone, their Kindle or their Sony Reader. Out of these three dominant readers (likely to be followed by the iPad shortly), very few Australian publishers support files readable on any of these devices. This type of scattered support is very frustrating for readers of ebooks – no publisher is ever going to be capable of covering every version of ebook format with DRM that can be read by every type of ebook reader. However, if books were sold without DRM in the first place, legitimate buyers of ebooks would be able to easily convert the book to the format of their choice – with the added benefit that the book would be ‘future proof’ (most types of current DRM will eventually become defunct and render reading of the copy-proof versions impossible).

Australian ebooks are currently sold at the same price as their paper counterparts. This is an economic decision I understand, but when you take into account how crippled the formats that are sold actually are, it is little wonder legitimate ebooks are selling so slowly.

What do you think? Have you ever cracked the DRM on an ebook? Does DRM turn you off purchasing ebooks? Are you willing to break the law in order to truly own a book you have paid for?

USER REVIEW WINNER: Tuscan Rose

Tuscan Rose by Belinda Alexandra
Reviewed by FreyaP

What a ride.

This book took me by surprise with the depth of emotion that it evoked.

An epic journey, depicting the life of an inspirational female character.

The lifetime of links and connections throughout made you want to keep on reading.

I found myself intriqued by the very interesting descriptions of wartime Italy under Mousolinni’s Reign.

After reading numerous books depicting countries at war and Hitlers impact on humanity, The Tuscan Rose presents the atrocities of Hitler but specifically describes the raw impact that Mousolinni had on Italy during that time.

With a hint of fantasy, an insight into Italy’s history and an unending example of feminine strength, I was hooked. (4 stars)

A big thanks to all the members who submitted reviews – keep reviewing your favourite books at http://www.boomerangbooks.com.au for your chance to win! For being this month’s winner, FreyaP has won $50 to spend in Boomerang Bucks

MAY BOOK GIVEAWAY

Marchetta fans, prepare to go crazy – in May, each of our Boomerang Books Members are in the running to win a signed copy of one of Australia’s finest authors’ latest. The full prize pack includes:

Not a member? Sign up today for your chance to win.

MAY FACEBOOK GIVEAWAY

Attention former Facebook Group members, we’ve moved to a brand new fanpage, so be sure to become a fan of Boomerang Books for your chance to win a prize pack that includes:

A big thanks to our friends at Black Dog Books, Pan Macmillan, Penguin Books, Wakefield Press for supporting our giveaways this month.

Thirty seconds to Marrs

George’s little intro

Today I’d like to welcome Shirley Marr to Literary Clutter. Shirley is the author of the just-released YA novel Fury. It’s her first novel, and she has kindly stopped by to tell us a little about her journey to publication.

Thirty Seconds to Marrs (well perhaps a few minutes. OR YEARS.)
By Shirley Marr

What do leopard print, William Faulkner, a Guy Sebastian ticket, a Harry Potter owl and porcelain Royal Albert pig have in common? Absolutely nothing except they all happen to collide at my desk. Welcome to my writer’s space. My name is Shirley Marr and I am pro-clutter. After witnessing the photo of George’s desk though, I think mine is not all that bad, what do you think? I am challenging all future guest bloggers to take the Literary Clutter challenge and send in their photos.

I’m here today to share the experiences of getting published for the first time and maybe offer some advice that you might find useful.

So what do you think you need to become a published author? A literary background? Be an industry insider? Special connections? Special skills?

The simple truth is that you just need to love writing. You don’t have to be the best writer in the world, you just need to practice and eventually you’ll become pretty sufficient at stringing a bunch of words together. What is important is that you’re the only person out there with a story that can be told in your voice, through your eyes and experiences. Remember that.

My debut book Fury is out this May. Against all odds, I mailed a three-chapter sample to an indie publishing company called Black Dog Books and was pretty much signed on the spot. How does that happen? In my words “I’m just a girl”. I don’t have an English degree. I’ve never been to a single writing workshop, class or group. I work full time in a job that is nowhere near the literary world. The closest I’ve ever been to getting advice on how to write is buying a copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing a Novel.

The secret is that I’ve been writing seriously for ten years. Ten years ago I said to myself “I want to be an author” and I started writing. I am no overnight success story. I’ve been through multiple crappy manuscripts and reached my lowest points where I chucked tantrums and threatened to quit because I believed I could never succeed. And it was an incredibly lonely ten years. It was ten years before I produced something that I thought was even fit to be seen by someone else. That something was Fury. And boy did my Draft Zero suck.

Here’s a tip. Find someone who can give you honest advice. It makes your journey less lonely. My peep is BetaGirl. She does as her name suggests. She completely betas the living daylights out of everything I write until it’s a virtual pile of scraps. I then cry, put the scraps back together and what I have is something better and more wonderful than I had before. So by the time I submitted to Black Dog Books, it was as best as I could get it. It was luck they wanted me, but it was also a lot of hard work.

The actual writing process took me three months, but it doesn’t end there. The editing process with Melissa Keil took around a year. If you can’t put everything that ever meant anything into it, then seriously, don’t do it! But if you really, really want (zig-a-zag-ahhhh) it — don’t be a diva, don’t get upset when someone says something sucks and just prepare to bust your ass! I wish you the best. It’ll be the best and worst time of your life.

For me now, it’s almost time to be a debutante. Being a new girl I expected this leg to be the hardest. I expected to be ignored, snubbed and maybe have my hair pulled. In fact, to be honest, I expected to be hazed… but all the other authors I have met have been super nice. George came up to me in the proverbial play yard and wanted to be friends and share his bloggy sandwich with me. I am glad to have made it here. And I am nothing special. In fact you are probably a better writer than me, so if I can do it… Believe that you can too.

George’s little bit at the end

Positive reviews of Fury are already hitting the net — like this one and this one.

Also, here’s a vid of Shirley talking about Fury:

Now, as for Shirley’s desk — it doesn’t look cluttered to me! In fact, it looks positively neat, although it does have some interesting paraphernalia. But what about you, dear reader? Tell us a few of the weird and wonderful things that adorn your workspace. Go on… embarrass yourselves!

Tune in next time to find out what my family and I have been reading.

Catch ya later, George

A SLIGHTLY SKEWED INTERVIEW

Paul Collins, author of The Slightly Skewed Life of Toby Chrysler started writing at “age fourteen or thereabouts” and has penned around 130 books.
Paul is visiting Kids’ Book Capers this week to talk about both his writing and publishing journeys. He agreed to answer some “slightly skewed” questions.

Were you a bookworm as a kid?

“Believe it or not I’d only ever read comics – there was never a book in our house. Well . . . one did surface every now and then, a green-spined Penguin mystery. Whenever I stumbled across it I’d idly wonder how it got there.”

So, how did you become a writer?

Obviously not through a passion for reading lol. Paradoxically, I was always reasonably good at spelling and “English Expression” as it was called. My father loved telling stories and jokes. And I was always into comics, notably Ironman, Captain America and Spiderman.


You mostly write fantasy and the occasional science fiction. What inspired you to write
this book?

I loved the idea of writing about a character who muddled his proverbs. I came across malapropisms, which I must confess I was unaware of. On researching the term, I discovered alas I wasn’t going to be the first author to have such a character in a book. How to do it “differently” was the key.

Can you tell us some favourite malapropisms?

Their neighbours are very effluent; the town was flooded and had to be evaporated; decapitated coffee (which a friend reckons is a flat white lol).

What’s The Slightly Skewed Life of Toby Chrysler about?

A kid who has Asperger’s, although that’s not mentioned in the book. Toby runs blindly from pillar to post in a series of improbable situations. There’s mystery, humour, action, and a host of weird characters. Part of it’s based on my childhood – that is, a mother who left the family. I was nine at the time. One reviewer wondered how a mother could leave her child, but hey, it happens!

What age group is it for?

8+ – this age question is subjective. I know 10 year-olds who have read Lord of the Rings.

How have kids responded to it?

A young Gold Creek reviewer said: “My favourite character is Toby because he is so unpredictable. As an easy reading paperback I recommend this book to kids aged 10+.  I just loved the whole book”.

Tell us about Toby?

There’s no deceit about him. If he makes a promise, he sticks to it – a guy you’d trust because he’s incapable of lying.  Toby is a mix of lightning-quick memory and naïve inability to work out what people mean … he is totally oblivious to body language and expression.  I desperately wanted him to sort things out and be happy.

To find out more about Toby’s story, see the book trailer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lclytl3DB-4


What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

There was no deadline. I wrote in between publishing other authors’ books. And like I said before, I wanted to work with a character using malapropisms, so that was fun. Other minor characters just happened along and I feel they worked out pretty well, too.

What was the hardest thing about writing it?

It has a deceivingly simple plot. But when you dissect it, there are a lot of interwoven intricacies. Even I got confused for a while! There was also a fair bit cut by the editor. I trusted that she made the right decisions. I think that’s the hard bit – writing what you think are good scenes, only to be told by an editor that they have to go.

Thanks for sharing Toby’s fascinating journey with us Paul. Paul will be back on Wednesday wearing his publisher’s hat. Hope you can join us then.

Links:

Teachers notes are available at www.celapenepress.com.au

ReadPlus: http://www.readplus.com.au/blog_detail.php?id=961

GetAheadKids: http://tinyurl.com/yauynvr

The Reading Stack: http://thereadingstack.blogspot.com/

Gold Creek:

Toby:

The Book Chook: http://www.thebookchook.com/2010/03/book-review-slightly-skewed-life-of.html

The Movie Curse


Against every sensible bone in my body’s advice, I made a trip to the movies for the 2010 remake of Clash of the Titans, starring that gorgeous Aussie, Sam Worthington. My first mistake. Having adored the 1981 version, I of course had high expectations of this new adaptation. This was my second mistake.

No matter how hard I try, I can’t help but have preconceived notions of how an adaptation should behave. I mean, these people, these ‘director geniuses’ and ‘prodigy scriptwriters’ are taking a perfectly good baby, mixing the DNA up – prettifying it *here* and simplifying it *there* and suddenly you find yourself looking into the face of a stranger. A boringly symmetrical version of someone you once knew, perhaps treasured for its depth, its ‘ugliness’. Now completely ruined.

I fancy myself a bit of a movie critic (though not a great one) – I hang on every word of David and Margaret’s, and throw about such gems as ‘completely amateur scriptwriting!’ and ‘that plot had more holes in it than a boxful of broken sieves’ with the greatest of ease. I’m sure my movie buddies live in terror of the final credits rolling, me blasting the crud out of a movie which ‘was pretty funny, had some romantic bits’, or at least they thought it did until I opened my fat trap.
It’s because of this critical mindset that I’m scared to count how many of my favourite books have, in my oh-so-humble opinion, been ruined by  the silver screen. Dystopian Sci Fi features in particular are (a bit) hit and (mostly) miss for me (why, oh why did they change the ending to I Am Legend?), and it’s why I’m too afraid to watch The Road, despite loving – or perhaps BECAUSE I loved – Cormac McCarthy’s desolate masterpiece. It’s all I can do to stop from getting down on my knees and praying to the movie gods that John Marsden’s Tomorrow series receives proper justice (it’s set for release later this year). Please please PLEASE be good! Please!

I’m resigned to the fact that turning a fantasy book into a movie seems to run a dangerous gauntlet for investors, fans and producers alike. Perhaps it’s because it requires such a suspension of disbelief, that the special effects have to be more than special, the characters have to be more than protagonists, they have to be HEROES. No other genre (besides paperback romance) lusts after its main character as much as fantasy literature does. To be honest, the last time I truly enjoyed some book-to-movie (or movie-to-book) adaptations was back in the 80s, early 90s. True story.

Yet somehow, despite all my whinging and my frenzied vow never to watch anything surrounded by hype ever again, the glittery promise  of the silver screen bringing my favourite characters to life just keeps sucking me back in. Me paying 17 bucks a pop in the vain hope that I’ll feel one tenth of the devastation I felt when Artax drowned in the mud, or the excitement mixed with dread as Westley faces off with Vizzini over the poisoned cup. Such is the mystery, and the poisonous allure, of the movie curse.

Revinenting The Wheel

Mention the future of the book and people will immediately begin discussing digital versus physical. The Kindle versus the iPad. They will either be pro-digital and speculating on which format will win (I say the iPad without question over the Kindle, but beyond that who knows?) or will tutt tutt about the inevitable demise of the bound paper book that smells familiar and organic and has pages that bend and yellow with time.

But rarely will they discuss new ways that physical books might stay in our lives. Which is why it’s pretty exciting to find out that the David Garcia Studio has combined old school with new school and has, quite literally, reinvented the wheel.

The Archive II is a circular, mouse wheel-like bookcase that’s propelled by walking and its practical applications could be fantastic. They include not having to pack your books into boxes that you then lug to a new home, by instead offering an all-in-one storage and moving device. They also include not having to locate and battle an Allan key to dissemble your bookcase and then try to remember how to assemble it sans instructions (that you of course never kept) at the other end.

What appears simple and beautiful in design might not be so effective in practice—c’mon, tell me you aren’t wondering how they stop the books from falling out or how one might steer such a device while trying to read and walk—but it does make us think outside the square a little. That is, that portability doesn’t necessarily equal electronic. That it doesn’t mean forgoing something of beauty.

The Archive II also reminds us that while we can get caught up in the debate about the form and delivery of books, books are for us much more than words on a page. Who needs artworks on the walls when you can combine beauty and function in a talking-point bookcase? I, for one, would love such a bookcase just to recline inside and think and read.

The Archive II might not be coming to an Ikea near us anytime soon, but it does inspire us to think of our other connections to, uses for, and ways to celebrate the physical book. And surely if the David Garcia Studio has been clever enough to design something so beautiful and practical, they’ve also designed it to be assembled without some too-difficult instructions and a useless Allen key?

War—What Is It Good For?

Emergency Sex and Other Desperate MeasuresWhile I’m rarely able to pick a ‘favourite’ book, nor even do more than draw a blank when I’m asked to recommend something, one of my hands-down favourites and one that I regularly buy as a gift for friends or thrust upon them as a loaner is Emergency Sex (and Other Desperate Measures). Written by three United Nations (UN) workers—lawyer Kenneth Cain, social worker Heidi Postlewait, and almost-Aussie New Zealand-born doctor Andrew Thomson—it gives a warts-and-all insight not only into war but the international organisation tasked with managing its fallout.

The three were stationed in the likes of Bosnia, Haiti, Rwanda, and Somalia, the latter of which included them being there during the awfulness of Black Hawk Down. The revelations aren’t pretty and offer some fairly despairing examples of why the UN is referred to as a ‘toothless tiger’, but the book’s strangely inspiring too. In fact, despite cataloguing its flaws, the authors still work at the UN and still work to improve the world we live in. I’ve never more wanted to join the UN than I did after reading the book and apparently am not alone in my thinking.

I’m not going to dish details of the origins of the ‘emergency sex’ of the title—I recommend you read it to find out for yourself—but I will say that while it might be the gimmick that attracts you, there’s much more to the book than that. UN officials as high up as Kofi Annan tried to prevent the book from being published, but it was such in-text statements as the fact that if blue-helmeted UN officials turn up in your village purporting to be there to help you, you should run that were much more thought-provoking.

An Imperfect OfferingKeen to know more and to fill the post-good-book reading void after finishing Emergency Sex, I stumbled across Medecins Sans Frontieres president James Orbinski’s An Imperfect Offering: Dispatches from the Medical Frontline. Orbinski has spent years working in some pretty harrowing hotspots, but for me the most compelling aspect of the book was his account of his time spent in Rwanda. As one of the few foreigners who stayed in the country and who witnessed first-hand the atrocities of the genocide, which the world (including the UN) effectively watched unfold without intervening, his stories are harrowing and haunting.

By demonstrating the human cost of war, both books resoundingly show that war is much messier and less effective than the obfuscating ‘shock and awe’ and ‘smart bomb’ jargon would have us believe. They also demonstrate the triumph of the human spirit against the odds and give some very human insight into (for those of us who’ve grown up in safe environments) a very foreign experience. And while I’ve re-read and will continue to return to both books, the question I’m now faced with is, now that I’m again facing the good-book reading void, which insight-into-war book(s) should I read next?

REVIEW: Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

Honestly, Patrick Ness couldn’t have ended the Chaos Walking trilogy in a more perfect way.

The first two books in the series, The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer, stand out for their inventiveness, their fierce pace, and their vivid characters. Monsters of Men meets the standard, then ups the stakes, then ups them again, and then again. There are a billion points in the story where I didn’t think Ness could ratchet up the tension any more – and then he does.

Avoid spoilers, if you can. I’m not giving anything away, so, vague summary ahead: Monsters of Men is about young people coming into power, guided by those who are in power (and who, in most cases, have been corrupted by it). Our heroes Todd and Viola are mostly back together again, in the sense that they share many more scenes than they did in The Ask and the Answer and find ways to communicate even when they’re apart, but they’re still constantly buffeted and battered by the competing forces of Mistress Coyle and Mayor Prentiss.

Who, by the way, is the strongest and most difficult character. Is he really the villain of this story, or is he its hero? Ness doesn’t answer that question (and nor should he), instead crafting a character who is at once charismatic, paternal, untrustworthy and chilling. Which is just the way it should be. Of all the characters in Chaos Walking, the Mayor will stay with me the longest.

(And maybe Manchee. Love that dog.)

Kudos to Ness for avoiding the drippy sentiment that often plagues finales (Deathly Hallows, anyone?), but he does cheat a few times: a lot of the support characters feel stand-in-ish, and a couple of the plot twists seem like they’ve been thrown in for shock value rather than to enhance the story. (Particularly the very final twist, which came this close to ruining the whole series for me. Ultimately, though, Ness turns it into a very satisfying conclusion.)

I’ve been lucky with the series: I only started reading it in the month leading up to Monster’s release, meaning I didn’t have to wait a year between instalments like everyone else. I literally read all three entries one after the other. So I’m not sure what the feeling is in the Chaos Walking fanbase – but I have a feeling they’ll like the final book as much as I did.

Sam Downing

Why I have not read Twilight

TwilightI have not read Twilight! I do not intend to read Twilight! I am content with this decision and I am sure that I will go on to have a happy and fulfilling life without it. But how did I come to this decision?

I had heard a lot about Twilight — both good and bad. It, and its follow-up books, had been getting a lot of publicity for quite some time. When the film was released on DVD, I decided that I should probably read the book before seeing the film and find out what all the fuss was about. So I borrowed a copy from a friend.

I was reading another book at the time, so my wife decided to read it first. For the next week I listened to her read the book. Yes, listened, as she tsk’ed with contempt, groaned with annoyance and snorted with derision… occasionally punctuated by, “OMG, just let me read you this bit…”. At the end of each chapter, I’d cop an earful of colourful rhetoric about how little the story had progressed, yet how much more annoying the characters had become. “Bella just spent an entire chapter whining and pining for Edward!” or “Edward just spent an entire chapter sparkling and being gazed at by a soppy-eyed Bella!” and “I’m dragging myself though this book, in the hopes that a story will actually happen at some point!” When she had finally finished, she turned to me and said: “Honey, don’t read it!”

My wife is probably the only person in the world who can say something like that to me, and have me follow the advice. Normally, being told not to do something just makes me want to do it more. But after 17 years, Kerri (that’s my wife) has come to know me pretty well, and knows my literary likes and dislikes. After years of recommending books to me, this is the first time she has ever recommended I not read a particular book… so I took the recommendation seriously.

That’s not to say that Kerri hated the book. She didn’t. She found it a frustrating but interesting read. Frustrating because there was very little plot and because she found the characters annoying. Interesting, because she said that as a 15-year-old girl she probably would have loved it. Here’s why:

“It pushes all the right buttons for a teenage girl. It’s as if the book were written by a committee of women with a checklist.”

Kerri did express some curiosity in seeing the film version. So we borrowed the DVD from our local video store and put aside an evening of our lives that we will sadly never be able to reclaim. I figured that if I liked the film, I’d make the effort to read the book. I did not like the film. In fact, I hated it! Aside from the fact that it was overacted and poorly directed, there was not all that much to the plot and the dialogue was clichéd and atrociously written. Granted, Kerri did say that the book was marginally better, but given how much I disliked the film, that was not much of an incentive.

Every now and then, someone will still suggest that I should give the book a go. And I toy with the possibility, purely on a curiosity level. But seriously folks, life is too short to be reading stuff that you don’t really want to read. There are HUGE numbers of books that I really do want to read — way too many for me to actually get through. I need to prioritise. And a mild curiosity simply is not enough to get me to put this book on my mile-high “must-get-around-to-reading-someday” stack, let alone my three metre tall “must-read-soon” pile.

So that, folks, is why I have not read Twilight. And that is why I am unlikely to read it. Not unless I get stranded on a desert island without any other reading material.

Now, having said all of the above, I do wish to point out that I have nothing against the people who do like the books and the films. Everyone is entitled to their own literary choices. I’m sure that some of the books I’ve chosen to read over the years would make many people cringe. And I haven’t always made sterling choices. But as I said earlier, I couldn’t possibly read everything that I want to read, so I do have to make choices.

Even though I have chosen not to read it, I believe it to be an important book. It seems to have mimicked Harry Potter’s success in getting people who don’t normally read, to pick up a book. And for that, I applaud it. For many people Twilight will be the beginning of a life-long romance with the written word. That’s a good thing.

Well… that’s it for vampires! On to other things. Tune in next time when Shirley Marr, author of the soon to be released YA novel Fury, drops in to tell us about her first publishing experience.

Catch ya later,  George

Potplants, red in tooth and claw

Yesterday I had to catch the train home from work with a Venus Fly Trap plant in my handbag. I’m blaming Sir David Attenborough. His voice may be soft, but his enthusiasm is contagious, and after watching the epic documentary Earth recently and re-reading my copy of the Life of Mammals, I was filled with wonder and fascination for all things for all things natural.

So, when I wandered by a gardening centre and discovered they had a special on carnivorous plants, I just couldn’t resist the tiny Venus Fly Trap, with its fringed green and red maws open and begging for treats. But in my enthusiasm I had forgotten I was catching the train home. I wasn’t sure what to do with the plant. Taking a bunch of flowers on the train is one thing, but a carnivorous plant? People would think I was nuts. Perhaps I should play to the crowd. I considered glaring at nearby passengers while stroking the plant saying “soon, my pretty, soon.”

Common sense triumphed, however, and I managed to stash it in my huge handbag (all the better to carry books with, my dear) and get it home, where it now has pride of place on the top of the bookcase. It likes heat and humidity and plenty of light, and I’ll need to catch flies for it to keep it happy and grow it. I’m quite looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

It will, unfortunately, probably end up in the potplant graveyard on the balcony. Along with the geraniums, some big leafy things and the apparently “indestructible” ivy that I killed in a record three weeks.

My love for pretty houseplants is completely unrequited. I don’t so much have green fingers as black thumbs. Need to defeat the Triffids? Make my living room the first stop on their world conquering itinerary and they’ll be dead in a week. I alternate between utterly ignoring my plants for weeks on end and then deciding to lavish them with enthused, but ineffective, love.

My Mum, who has just arrived over from Ireland, is horrified by the potplant graveyard and asked how I’ve been treating the plants. On hearing I never fed them and they’ve been in the same pot for the last three years she looked at me like I had said I keep small children in the attic and feed them buckets of fish heads once a week. She thrust half a bottle of fertiliser and some pots at me and made “I’m going to call the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Plants” noises until I started to pay them attention. So my plants have been potted and composted and fed and watered and are currently getting lots of attention. They’d better enjoy it while it lasts.

Plants rarely survive in our house. We have bought several, but the only one to survive is some sort of potted stalky bamboo-y type thingy. (That’s the common name for it, of course. The Latin would be as Nescio Quis Abyssus, or the I Dunno What plant.) We ignore it apart from sporadic watering and occasional de-leaving when it goes brown, the tenacious thing continues to grow ever taller. Every few months it sprouts up another inch, and in the process puts out two improbably big leaves that quiver gently in the wind. All the leaves lower down have fallen off and now it resembles nothing so much as a tall skinny man wearing an absurdly large toupee. It hates attention. When we tried to move it to a better spot, it shed all its leaves. When we tried to repot it, it died for a few months. Basically, it finds my ministrations so abhorrent that it feigns death rather than put up with them.

Of course, if I don’t treat the Venus Flytrap right (Dionaea muscipula, which is actually its correct name), it is carnivorous. You have to wonder why they are having a special on these plants. Perhaps they eat the people who get it wrong. Perhaps the plants have sent something to extract vengeance for all their fallen kin on the balcony.

Or perhaps, this time, I should just pay the darn thing some attention and feed it before it eats me.

For the Love of the Chunkster

Dear Readers:

I have a confession to make. It is a confession that is so monstrous, so remarkably horrid, that your view of me will forever be marred.

*Takes deep breath*

I have never read The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

[I know what you’re thinking: “and here she is, this imposter, purporting to be a FANTASY blogger, no less!”]

Before you pass too hasty a judgment, let it be known that I have watched the Peter Jackson movies and loved them to bits, over and over again. And I read The Hobbit, so really, I feel like I know Bilbo Baggins PRETTY well. It’s not the same, I know. But it’s a start.

On three separate attempts I have made it, at best, about halfway through The Fellowship of the Ring. My excuse for not finishing it? It was TOO DARNED LONG. Too much valuable reading time had to be spent on the series, whereas I could read 15 or so smaller books in the same time bracket! But in my heart of hearts, I know this is a lie.
In truth, if you look at which books I love and have enjoyed the most, refusing to read a book because it is “too long” is laughable. For my very reading existence is almost completely dependent on my love for a particular type of book: for the love of the CHUNKSTER!

I define a chunkster as a book that has at least 500-600 pages, average size font.

Why do I love them? Well, there is something deliciously satisfying about reading a book that gives me the proper amount of time to immerse myself in the story, wallow about in its glorious filth. To know the characters through an intense description of a frock worn, to know a world as it is built, brick by brick around me. And, of course, I feel pretty awesome when I finish something that requires so much time and effort to get through.

Some of my fave chunksters:

Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett is a magnificent choice in the chunkster realm. To understand the passion and architectural skill of building a Gothic cathedral, while all these people’s lives are carrying on around it, is just mesmerising to me. After reading that book, I felt like I had built the church myself – ’tis a great feeling of accomplishment;
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke, is 1000 pages or so of mind-numbing faerie Victoriana brilliance;
Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell, sends me into a spin just thinking about it;
And I have just read Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, and been absolutely blown away by its intricate content, its romantic Sci Fi, its literary awesomeness. No wonder it won the Booker Prize.

I am also super pleased to report that the fashion of the chunkster doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere fast. The obsession with mass fantasy reads like Harry Potter and Twilight meant that each book in the series had to be larger than the last, to satisfy the starving fans. And you only have to look at 2009’s Booker shortlist to see that chunksters are still considered worthy literary reads (I’m currently digging my way through Wolf Hall with mounting enthusiasm). So, to come full circle – I don’t know why I can’t get through Lord of the Rings. I’m going to try again, mid-year, and let you know the results. As long as another chunkster doesn’t steal my attention… (here’s hoping!)

How do you feel about chunksters? To me, you’re in one of two camps: you adore the chunkster and all that it stands for, or you fear them to the depths of your soul and avoid them like the plague.

Which is it for you? Team Love? Or Team Fear?

Books: Just ‘Fodder For Digital Chatter’?

It seems reasonable to assume that the future of book reading is at least going to involve more social networking. The newest ebook readers make connectivity a selling point – the built-in ability to share your views or quotes from a book on Twitter or Facebook is the next logical step, if it hasn’t happened already. This will be the digital equivalent of the bookshelf; except you won’t need to invite people into your home to brag about what you’re reading. Is there a chance, however, as suggested in this article in the New York Times, that this will mean books become merely ‘fodder for digital chatter’?

In my last post I talked about the rise and risks of self-publishing, and received an interesting response from one of the commenters:

I think we’re going to see more and more titles gaining success without going through traditional publishers. With most books being bought online, access to physical outlets … will matter less and less … I think it will come down to author reputation and following. The real success stories will be people who can get their book in front of influential people who will recommend it.

In other words, the future of publishing forecast by this commenter is democratic. Readers, through the medium of Facebook newsfeed algorithms and John Mayer’s tweets, will decide what gets through to you – in just the same way you heard about that funny cat picture. While this might seem both sad and unrealistic to some people, it’s a very common view, especially on the internet. The internet, in fact, has turned us all into writers, musicians, actors and journalists. There are so many people out there creating content that the vast majority of it remains unseen – at least until a highschool student from Idaho mashes up the video/poem/blog post and turns it into a meme.

Books, for the most part, have been immune to this type of thing. This might be because they’re long and not very easy to cut up into small pieces, but it might also be that there isn’t all that much digital access just yet. As this changes, it’s likely we’re going to see more “OMG LOL did u here about Banquo? Mbeth totally pwned his ass”.

Is this a terrible thing? I’m certainly not at the point where I have to tweet every funny line of every book I’m reading, but I’ll often turn to the person next to me and share something that made me laugh. At other times I’ll be itching to tell a particular group of friends about something specific I’m reading. Is moving this behaviour onto social networking so very wrong? It certainly feels … weird. Like a transgression of some kind. But I’m not sure why. What do you think?

DIGGING UP DINOSAURS with Sheryl Gwyther

As part of our Dinosaur Week, we’re talking today to author Sheryl Gwyther about how she became a writer, and how she went to an actual dinosaur dig to research her book, Secrets of Eromanga.

Let’s start with your author’s journey, Sheryl.

I’d been crazy about reading books and writing bits and pieces since I was little, but other things got in the way – school, jobs, travel, university, art school. Then one day I knew what I should be doing with my life … writing books for young people.

You’re obviously dedicated to getting the research part right. Where was the dinosaur dig you went on?

It was on a sheep station near Winton, in western Queensland.

Sheryl on the fossil dig

Not only did I have fun digging up pieces of a huge sauropod dinosaur named Elliot, I uncovered the story lurking in my head. That story, with its two inter-weaving narratives, went on to become my first novel, Secrets of Eromanga, an adventure story for 9-12 year olds.

What’s Secrets of Eromanga about?

Twelve-year-old Ellie knows more about Australian dinosaur fossils than how to get friends. But she discovers more than friendship on an outback fossil dig site when she becomes entangled in a web of illegal fossil smuggling. She must find the courage and determination needed to save her friends.

fossilised dinosaur footprints

95 million years separate Ellie and a small ornithopod dinosaur that once lived beside the ancient inland waters of the Eromanga Sea. Both Ellie and the dinosaur face fears and uncertainty of their separate worlds. Time and fate binds them together. Neither can escape that fate.

Can you tell us something you learned about Australian dinosaurs when you were researching this book?

Everyone knows about T-Rex, Brontosaurus and Velociraptor.

Millions of years ago in the Cretaceous period, we had the Aussie versions of Rex, Bronto and Raptor here in Australia.  But they were species unique to this land. They appear in my book.

Teachers’ Notes are available:

View an extract from Secrets of Eromanga at:

What did you enjoy most about writing Secrets of Eromanga?

I enjoy writing stories that are set in modern times but also linking back in the past somehow – like in Secrets of Eromanga. It’s exciting finding out things that weave the past and the present together.

What have you been working on since you finished digging up dinosaurs?

Even though I’m still thrilled at the thought of finding more dinosaur bones, I haven’t written any more about those magnificent creatures.

This year I have more books and a short story coming out. The short story, Corn dolly Dead is in black dog books, Short and Scary anthology.

My chapter book, Princess Clown is out in early May, with Blake Publishing. It’s a funny chapter book about a very determined princess who would much rather make people laugh.

The second book is out in August with Pearson Australia. I had lots of fun writing Charlie and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper. Check out this link for more on these stories:

Sheryl also has a new blog just for kids at

http://sherylgwyther4kids.wordpress.com

Thanks for dropping in for a chat later, Sheryl. Perhaps you might like to come back one day to talk more about how you did your research for Secrets of Eromanga.

Dee

Literary Feuds – Popular Authors at Dawn (or Twilight)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that any book in possession of popularity must be in want of literary merit. If it sells well, it must be lowbrow. And, when other popular writers are the ones to say this, it causes no end of fuss.

Last year Stephen King, the king of high-selling horror, took a pot shot at one of the biggest names out there, Stephenie Meyers. “Both Rowling and Meyer, they’re speaking directly to young people… The real difference is that Jo Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a damn. She’s not very good.”

There was uproar. Not very good? Meyer’s star is currently at its peak, and her huge army of Twilight fans (or Twi-hards) were aghast on her behalf. According to some sources, they suggested drowning Stephen King in hate mail. (Bear in mind, Stephen King is a man in poor health in his sixties. You’d probably only need one small bag.)

Not very good? As of March 2010, the Twilight series has sold over 100 million copies and been translated into at least 38 different languages. It has inspired major movies, parodies and countless fan sites. How do you quantify “good” in something as subjective as writing if not by how many people like it, her fans asked? Meyers herself did not join the indignation. Some Twilight fans thought this might be because she was richer than the Queen and doesn’t care anymore. Perhaps Meyers was too busy drowning under cheques to respond to poor Stephen (who was, presumably, drowning in hate mail written on scented paper and in red ink)?

But, while it is true that the Twilight saga is selling by the bucketload, what the Twi-hards seem to miss is that popular authors taking a pop at each other is a time honoured tradition. And Stephen’s off the cuff insult was relatively mild compared to what some authors have had slung at them.

Jane Austen was the popular author of her day, but not everyone liked her. Fortunately didn’t live long enough to hear Mark Twain declare her so poor a writer he thought of desecrating her grave.

I haven’t any right to criticize books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.

Mark Twain’s writing wasn’t so great either, according to William Faulkner. He believed the moustachioed Twain “[a] hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tricked out a few of the old proven sure fire literary skeletons with sufficient local colour to intrigue the superficial and the lazy.” Likewise, Evelyn Waugh was unimpressed by French novelist, Marcel Proust. “I am reading Proust for the first time. Very poor stuff. I think he was mentally defective.”

And acccording to James Dickey; “[if] it were thought that anything I wrote was influenced by Robert Frost, I would take that particular work of mine, shred it, and flush it down the toilet, hoping not to clog the pipes…”

It makes Stephen’s fit of pique look almost cute.

Meyer has not responded. Perhaps she recognises the clacking of typewritten literary insults for what they are – a membership card to the club of lucky authors whose books are popular enough to merit discussion by other authors. Perhaps she realises that Stephen King is, in his own snarky way, welcoming her onboard to the Big Boys club.

Or perhaps she’s still struggling under her royalty cheques.

For the record, I love King, like Austen, enjoy Twain and couldn’t get past Book 1 in the Twilight Saga. I haven’t read Faulker. He’s on the list of authors-I-swear-I-will-read-someday but keeps getting dumped for travelogues and chick lit. It’s a long list, full of very worthy books and authors, and probably a post for another day.

Kate Forsyth talks inspiration

I have a soft spot for Kate Forsyth. She was the first author I interviewed when I became a Boomerang Books blogger (click here). And now, it’s a new year, this is a new blog, and Kate has a new book, so it’s only fair I invite her around for a new feature (although, it looks like George may have gotten the scoop first – click here for her guest-blog over at Literary Clutter). Her buzzed-about new release, The Wildkin’s Curse is out now. Check back at the end of the week for coverage of the book launch, and details on how you can win yourself a copy.

KATE FORSYTH:
Seven Inspirations behind The Wildkin’s Curse

Like all writers, I’m asked all the time: ‘Where did you get your ideas from?’ This is always a really hard question to answer, because all books have lots and lots of different ideas in them, all woven together. However, here are just seven of the primary ideas and inspirations behind The Wildkin’s Curse.

Seven inspirations:

1)    The Princess Bride by William Goldman and other favourite books of mine from childhood, like the Narnia books, The Wizard of Earthsea and The Book of Three. I was given a copy of The Princess Bride  for my 13th birthday, and it immediately became one of my favourite books. I have always loved books filled with adventure, magic, romance, humour and pathos, stories set long, long ago and far, far away. When I set out to write the ‘Chronicles of Estelliana’, I wanted to recapture the feel of the books I had loved so much as a child.

2)    I have always had a deep love of fairytales and fairytale retellings. As well as the power to enchant and entertain, I believe that the old wonder tales can help us work through the deep internal conflicts that beset us all as we grow to adulthood. The books in the Chronicles of Estelliana consciously draw upon, and invert, fairytale motifs. In The Starthorn Tree, the Count of Estelliana lies in a deep, enchanted sleep as the result of tasting a poisoned apple and it is his sister who sets out to wake him. In The Wildkin’s Curse, there is a princess imprisoned in a tower but Rozalina does not wait passively to be rescued, like Sleeping Beauty or Rapunzel. She wishes and prays and tells stories, and in the end, curses her captors.

3)    This book grew out of my own deeply-held belief that words and stories have power.  One of my favourite quotes is from Joseph Conrad who said: ‘My task which I am trying to achieve is by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel – it is, before all, to make you see. That – and no more, and it is everything.’

4)    The idea of a princess imprisoned in a crystal tower was the very first spark for this book. When I was two years old, I was savaged by a dog and ended up with terrible head injuries that resulted in meningitis. As a result of this, I was in and out of hospital for the next six years. Many long days were spent lying in my hospital bed, staring out the window and imagining myself galloping away over the hill, on my way to marvellous adventures. As a result, people held captive in towers is a motif that appears again and again in my work.

5)    Early on in the writing of the book, I had assembled my three adventurers and given them their quest but I had no idea how they were to rescue my imprisoned princess. I didn’t want to have Zed, Merry and Liliana just wandering through the land having vague, fantasy-style adventures (i.e. attack by monster in lake, misadventure while eating stew in roadside inn). I believe a story is like a sword – it must have a point. So my books always have a deeper thematic structure to them. Each obstacle my characters overcome has some kind of symbolic significance, as well as a practical function. So I had been puzzling over this particular problem for some time, but had not yet worked out a solution. I went for my morning walk and strode along, thinking, ‘how can they rescue Rozalina? How?’ Suddenly a raven took to the air, right in front of me, and dropped a single black feather at my feet. I bent and picked up the feather, my mind racing with ideas. A feather … a cloak of feathers … a damaged cloak of feathers that is missing seven feathers, each one from a different bird … a raven, symbol of death and wisdom … a tragic battle scene … an eagle, symbol of power and royalty … a dangerous climb to the top of a cliff … a nightingale, symbol of true love … a tender romantic scene late in the book … I walked faster and faster and faster, my mind leaping from one idea to another, and by the time I got home I had my entire novel fully plotted out. It was one of those amazing serendipitous moments that make writing a novel such a joy.

6)    World building is an important part of a fantasy writer’s job, and this means thinking very deeply about the effects of certain social, political or geographical factors upon your world. In the world of Estelliana, the ruling starkin families have married among themselves for many generations. I had read long been interested in haemophilia, sometimes called ‘the Royal Disease’ because of its ravaging effects among the  descendants of Queen Victoria. Her eighth son died of the disease, despite every effort to keep him from injury, and at least nine of her grandsons and great-grandsons were also haemophiliac. It was whispered that the queen’s family had long ago been cursed by an unhappy monk, and certainly the disease works in such a strange way that it must have seemed like malignant magic. Only boys are affected, and there was little hope, in the olden days, of growing to be an adult. It would make my world much more interesting, I thought, to have Rozalina being blamed for cursing her father so that none of his sons would live beyond babyhood, making her … a scorned girl-child and a despised half-breed … the heir to the throne.

7)    At the heart of The Wildkin’s Curse is a prophecy, uttered by Merry’s father in The Starthorn Tree. It says: ‘Next shall be the king-breaker, the king-maker, though broken himself he shall be.’ I knew that I wanted this prophecy to have several layers of meaning. I’ve been interested in paganism since I was a child, and knew that Easter had its roots in the celebration of the spring equinox, which signals the end of winter and the beginning of spring. For thousands and thousands of years, long beyond Christianity, the death of winter and birth of spring was celebrated in stories and rituals of a god or a man who died and was then reborn. This god has been given many names – Attis, Osiris, Orpheus, Dionysus, and Tammuz, to name a few. So I planned my novel to end on the night of the spring equinox, when one of my heroes must die …

– Kate Forsyth

Value Added: Is Traditional Publishing Obsolete?

A staggering 764,448 titles were produced in 2009 by self-publishers and micro-niche publishers, according to statistics released this morning by R.R. Bowker. The number of “nontraditional” titles dwarfed that of traditional books whose output slipped to 288,355 last year from 289,729 in 2008. Taken together, total book output rose 87% last year, to over 1 million books.

– Publishers Weekly

The internet and print-on-demand technology has made possible a gigantic leap forward in self-publishing in the last couple of years. Services like Lulu.com produce thousands of books per year by budding authors. In this environment, where anybody with the patience to sit down and write 70,000 words can get ‘published’, it begs the question – what value does the traditional publishing industry add to books?

This is especially pertinent with the rise in ebooks, as publishers defend the value of their intellectual property over their access to print and distribution services. If the author writes the material, and the publisher is no longer printing or distributing it – then what is it they actually do?

Matthew Reilly’s Contest was self-published before being picked up by a major publishing house. Last Christmas he was the biggest selling Australian author. Original copies of the self-published edition sell for over a thousand dollars.

Quite a lot, actually. The road to publication, from acquisition, through editorial, marketing, publicity and ultimately sales and distribution is one that traditional publishers have been perfecting for decades. I have witnessed books being torn apart and put back together by committed editors. Publicists, sales people and marketers work tirelessly to promote an author in whom they passionately believe, but who may have sold hardly any copies. Publishers develop their authors, book by book, over a number of years before seeing any kind of success. In other words: authors are not born – they are made.

The proof of this is in the pudding. Although the internet is full of people complaining that publishers don’t actually do anything, this doesn’t translate to the books people buy. There are very few self-publishing success stories – the fact remains that in order for a writer to be read, their book needs to get picked up by a traditional publishing house.

What do you think? Have you ever bought a self-published book? Do you regularly read self-published books? Do you think traditional publishers are obsolete? In what ways have traditional publishers failed their readership? If you are a budding writer – is self-publishing a viable option for you?

Authors with bite

Vampires! Post number two in a series of three about the pointy-toothed blood-suckers we all love to read about.

This time around I have enlisted the help of two authors who have written vamp fic. I’ve asked each of them to share with us their favourite vampire book.

NarrelleFirst cab off the rank is Narrelle M Harris, author of The Opposite of Life.

John Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In is a superb vampire novel. It’s Swedish, but the English translation captures its setting of a bleak suburb in 1980s Stockholm perfectly. Oskar, who is viciously bullied at school, befriends strange newcomer, Eli. The fact that Eli is a vampire and a killer is contrasted with the idea that Eli is also an abused child. The line between victim and monster is blurred, here and elsewhere in the story. It’s a disturbing horror story, but also ultimately a gentle love story. It’s elegant, atmospheric and unlike any other vampire story I’ve ever read.

You can find out more about Narrelle and her writing on her website. You can also follow her on Twitter. And for those of you who’ve read The Opposite of Life, you can also follow her two lead characters, Gary (the vampire) and Lissa (the librarian), on Twitter.

FozNext up we have Foz Meadows, author of Solace and Grief.

I love the Evernight series by Claudia Gray. On starting the first book, I was aggressively sceptical, but once I reached the halfway point, I couldn’t put it down, while the sequel volumes, Stargazer and Hourglass, were mesmerising. Gray’s characters are vividly realistic; her plotlines pull no punches. The more the series develops, the more it becomes apparent that a skilful long game is in effect: the mythology is built with care, and there are no loose threads – only questions that haven’t been answered yet. The writing is sleek, the pace swift, and the tension perfectly orchestrated. Definitely worth reading!

You can find out more about Foz and her writing by checking out her blog.

My thanks to Narrelle and Foz for stopping by.

My last post mentioned the vampire books that I loved. But I have read others — from the good (Thirsty by MT Anderson) to the not-so-good (The House of Caine by Ken Eulo). And then, there’s the disappointing…

Interview With The Vampire by Anne Rice. This is a book that lots of people have raved about. My first encounter with it was the film version. I really liked the film and so I thought to myself… most film adaptations are not as good as the original books, so I must go and read Interview With The Vampire. Which I did… Unfortunately. I found the characters annoying, the style dry and the whole thing long-winded and boring. After spouting my disappointment at anyone who would listen, an avid Anne Rice fan insisted that the second book in the series was much better and that I should give it a go. I didn’t. In fact, I’ve never read another Anne Rice book. Life is too short and there are way too many other books that I really want to read.

Which now brings me to the Twilight books.

Tune in next time as I tell you why I haven’t read Twilight.

Catch ya later,  George

Dinosaur Week at Kids’ Book Capers – DINOSAUR IN THE DARK AGES with Michael Bauer

Hope you enjoy our Dinosaur Week this week at Kids’ Book Capers. We’ll be talking with authors Michael Bauer and Sheryl Gwyther about their action packed adventure dinosaur books for kids.

TODAY – DINOSAUR IN THE DARK AGES

In Michael Bauer’s 2010 CBCA Notable book, Dinosaur Knights, a dinosaur ends up in the Dark Ages when a science experiment goes badly wrong.

Scientists in the future have developed technology  to reach back into the past and draw living things forward in time. They do this by locking onto ‘time fossils’ or ‘time prints’, impressions left by all living things on the fabric of time.

The scientists attempt to pull a dinosaur, Baryonyx Walkeri into their future for scientific research. When the dinosaur is lost during transportation, it turns up in Medieval England where two young brothers Roland and Oswald, and a girl Cristiana have their lives turned upside down.

Today, Michael Bauer is here  to talk about his book and how he wrote it.

Can you tell us about the characters in your story?

Twins Roland and Oswald, and a girl Cristiana are around 13.  Roland, a boy of action and adventure, but few words, longs to be a Knight. His brother Oswald wants to follow in their father’s footsteps and becoming a physician. He doesn’t take life quite as seriously as his brother. Cristiana is the feisty daughter of a local Lord. Against her will she is being made to marry a wealthy landowner almost her father’s age. The dinosaur’s arrival changes everything, particularly for the boys. The local Sheriff is found dead in the nearby forest and the boys’ father is convicted of his murder by corrupt officials. Oswald and Roland along with Cristiana set out to confront the monstrous ‘dragon’ and somehow prove that it is the real culprit.

What do you like about these characters?

They are all different, and even though they have their flaws and weaknesses they show great spirit and courage in tackling the challenges and dangers they must face.

Michael, is it true that you ‘borrowed’ your son’s old Jurassic park T-Rex figurine and his Action Men figures to help you write this book?

Yes it helped me to visualise some of the scenes where Oswald, Roland and Cristiana do battle with the dinosaur. That was fun!

Michael has published five books including Dinosaur Knights (Michael’s other books include The Running Man, Don’t Call Me Ishmael, Ishmael and the Return of the Dugong and You Turkeys). Your books are all quite different from each other. Do they have any common themes?

I think one theme shared by my books is the idea that everyone is different and unique, and that this is a good thing and should be celebrated.

Another one is how we think we know other people but we often judge them mainly on appearance or make assumptions about them with very little evidence or real understanding of them.

I love it when my characters show a side of their character or reveal something about themselves that takes the readers or other characters by surprise and makes them reassess their judgments.

Teacher’s notes for Dinosaur Knights are available at  http://www.scholastic.com.au/schools/curriculum/

pdf/Dinosaur_Knights.pdf

Teacher’s notes for all Michael’s books can be found at http://www.scholastic.com.au/schools/curriculum/

Thanks for dropping in, Michael. I can’t wait to read the new Ishmael Book you’re working on, and your next book, Just a Dog (due out September 2010).

Dee

On Wednesday, author Sheryl Gwyther will tell us how she went on a dinosaur dig to research her book, Secrets of Eromanga.

The Myth of the Children’s Book (Part 2)

“Some day, you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” -C.S. Lewis.

You might (or might not) be surprised to learn that the beloved fairy tale was originally meant for adults as well as kidlets.

Storytellers such as Perrault had Rapunzel pregnant by her hair-climbing paramore; the story of Snow White is said to be the historical real-life story of a girl poisoned by the Queen when the poor girl caught the eye of the King. Truly delightful stuff.

My love affair with the fairy tale goes further back than my swiss-cheese memory can account for. I can’t remember the first time I read Grimms’ version of Cinderella, where her ugly stepsisters cut their heels and toes off to fit the famed glass slipper, or when I first learned that the price to pay for loving a prince is your tongue cut out and an eventual suicide (a la Anderson’s The Little Mermaid).

Eventually I graduated to that masterpiece Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, but it wasn’t until Grizzly Tales for Gruesome Kids, by Jamie Rix, that I was taught some valuable and thoroughly modern lessons in life. Thrills and chills ran down my spine at the mere thought of The Spaghetti Man, who would turn children into macaroni, penne, or even the dreaded linguine! If children’s picture books help us to identify colours and language, fairy tales further develop a burgeoning imagination and a sense of reason. At the time, I lost countless nights of sleep to that burgeoning imagination, but it did have some positive effects for my parents: I forever after gobbled my spaghetti to the last limp noodle, for fear I should hear the scrape of those uncooked spaghetti fingers dragging along the floor towards me…

As for modern fairytales that are less ‘child’s play’, more ‘adults only’:

The Book of Lost Things, by John Connelly, is similar in story to Guillermo Del Toro’s gorgeous film, Pan’s Labyrinth and it’s a truly chilling read. After reading this book I needed some serious Disney movie therapy, to stop me thinking about Little Red Riding Hood spawning werewolves after laying with the Wolf. Nice. And if you haven’t read Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels (a retelling of Snow White and Rose Red) then you are missing out on some seriously beautifully-crafted language.

To finish off – a Mr. Chesterton (poet, essayist, novelist) once said:

“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”

So you’ve had a rough day at work – your boss has been an absolute dragon, and your mother-in-law can’t resist telling you (for the thirtieth time) how to raise your kids. Now imagine slaying that dragon, or watching a witch with your mother-in-law’s face dancing over red-hot coals – ouch! I don’t know about you, but when I perform that cathartic little exercise, my day feels a helluva lot brighter.

[Disclaimer: In no way am I condoning real-life violence… but gosh, when you really need it to get through a crappy day, isn’t the imagination a marvellous thing?]

The Goldilocks Guide To Good Reading

ZeitounRecommending books is often more miss than hit, so I feel a little nervous when I’m asked to suggest ‘a good book’ to read. After all, one person’s ‘good’ is another person’s ‘awful’. Add into the ‘good’ book request mix an immediate under-pressure terror to recommend something suitable for people who otherwise might not be avid readers and I, well, draw a blank. How are you supposed to narrow down the books you read to pick a ‘favourite’? How are you supposed to then select one that might become someone else’s favourite too?

I understand why people look for recommendations—in fact, more often than not I look for them too. We’re time poor and books require a not insignificant time and financial investment, so we want to get it right the first time, every time. But if you’ve ever been a member of a bookclub, you’ll know that reaching consensus on whether a book is good is nigh on impossible. I’ve never been so outraged and so willing to shake someone as I was the night my bookclub did Dave EggersZeitoun, an exceptional, simple, hauntingly-good non-fiction book about a New Orleans businessman who stayed behind to help during Hurricane Katrina.

One guy who shall remain nameless went against the consensus grain that Eggers had crafted a masterpiece and that the American legal system (and, arguably, psyche) is deeply flawed. Without ruining the story for those of you who haven’t yet read it (you should—it’s excellent; and yes, I’m aware of the irony that I’m recommending a book when I’ve just said it’s incredibly difficult to do so), he argued that Zeitoun well and truly deserved what he got. How that guy got out of there alive that night I’ll never know. And anyone who says bookclubs are for the meek and mild should spend a night at ours.

These days I tend to think of reading experiences not as one-size-fits-all book selection, but as being more akin to that of the Goldilocks fairytale—the protagonist tries out things that are too big, too small, too hot, and too cold until they find things that are, for them and them alone, ‘just right’. Which I why I’ll no longer recommend a single book. Instead I apply a kind of Goldilocks Guide to Good Reading and recommend something big, something small, something hot, and something cold to given them a broad and varied selection. My hope is that they find something in the mix that they consider ‘good’ or even ‘great’.

Books with bite

Vampires seem to be the in thing at the moment. Almost everyone is going ga-ga over the Twilight books and there is now a glut of teen vamp fic. Hollywood is, of course, cashing in on this, with numerous pointy teeth films and tv shows gracing our screens. For a bit of a laugh, check out the trailer for I Kissed a Vampire, a musical web series.

DraculaVampire fiction has been around for a long time. The first vampire book I ever read was Stephen King’s Salom’s Lot. It remains one of my favourites. Since then, I’ve read the occasional bit of vamp fic, including the granddaddy of them all, Dracula (which is well worth a read, even if you’re not into vampires). The one that really sticks in my mind, even though I read is about 13 years ago, is Poppy Z Brite’s Lost Souls. She has an interesting take on the vampire mythology. Her vamps are a separate species and breeding with humans results in each successive generation being less vampiric. The oldest vampire in the book can eat or drink nothing but blood, has pointy teeth and can be harmed by sunlight. The youngest is a bit of a goth — sunlight won’t hurt him but prefers to go out at night; his teeth aren’t pointy and although he doesn’t need to drink blood to live, he does come to develop a taste for it. There’s a lot more to it, but I’m working from memory here.

I’ve always thought that what this world really needed was some good vampire books set in Australia, preferable Melbourne (my home city). A number of years ago I read Vampire Cities by d’ettut (yes, d’ettut is the name of the author… pseudonym perhaps?), which was partly set in Australia. I remember thinking it was a weird, arty sort of book and that vampires weren’t actually the focus. It mustn’t have made much of an impression on me as I can remember nothing of the story.

More recently, I read Narrelle M Harris’s The Opposite of Life, which is set in Melbourne. I LOVED this book. It’s got lots of blood, dead bodies and pointy teeth and yet it’s a very atypical vampire story. The heroes are a geeky librarian and a slightly podgy, daggy vampire who wears loud Hawaiian shirts.  The book makes marvellous use of its Melbourne locale and is worth a read for that alone. Harris is writing a sequel… I can’t wait. Check out my review of The Opposite of Life.

Solace & GriefI also recently read Solace & Grief by Foz Meadows. The author calls the book an “urban fantasy” rather than a vampire novel. The main character is a vamp, as is the main villain, but there are other supernatural characters as well. It’s a young adult novel set in Sydney (not as good as Melbourne, but hey, at least it’s in Australia) and it’s got quite a different feel to it from any other vampire book I’ve read. It’s been getting some great reviews and with good reason – it’s a really good read. It is the first book of a trilogy called The Rare. Book 2 is currently in the works… definitely one to look out for.

There are probably other Australian vampire books out there. To be perfectly honest, I’ve never made a point of searching them out. The ones I’ve read were those that I happened across. So if anyone out there has any recommendations, I’m all ears… um… err… teeth?

Tune in next time for another vampire post, this time with the assistance of authors Foz Meadows and Narrelle M Harris.

Catch ya later,  George

A Life in Words – Bianca Nogrady on collaborative writing

The traditional image of a writer is an eccentric eking out a lone living on a typewriter in the attic (fingerless mittens optional but encouraged). Indeed, for many aspiring artists labouring in office jobs, the lack of constant human contact and interference is a perk of the job.

But for some writers, and particularly writers of non-fiction, it’s a more social affair. When freelance science journalist Bianca Nogrady was offered to a chance to collaborate to collaborate with James Bradfield Moody (Executive Director, Development at CSIRO and a regular panellist on the ABC television show ‘The New Inventors’) on a concept for a new book, the Sixth Wave, did having two writers double the fun or the trouble?

What was your initial reaction when James suggested collaborating?

I was flattered that he thought so highly of me as a journalist! Then, once my ego settled down, I became very excited about the whole idea of the book. It’s a positive, exciting look at the next 30 years of humanity, which makes such a refreshing change from all the doom-and-gloom.

How did it work in practice?

We had a few face-to-face and over-the-phone brainstorms to work out the structure of the book. Then, with each chapter, James would map out the skeleton – sometimes it was a loose sketch, other times he would write out the entire chapter – then he would pass it to me.

I would research, interview and ‘sprinkle fairy dust’ – turn it into something that I like to think is readable, understandable and entertaining. Each chapter would go back and forward several times with each of us tweaking, reworking, adding and editing, before it was finished.

What was the biggest advantage of collaborating? And the biggest argument?

I believe everyone has a book in them, but I’m yet to find mine, so it was great to have someone else come to me with their idea, particularly someone as intelligent and full of good ideas as James is. We both brought so much to the table, and complemented each other’s skill sets and knowledge base. We had the same vision for the book so it was rare for us to disagree on something and when we did, we were always able to negotiate a compromise.

And while I like to think of myself as having some degree of fame and notoriety, James’ celebrity and networks far eclipse mine. He has contacts I can only dream of, which opened some very impressive doors, not the least of which those at Random House Australia.

The only significant downside is that instead of one person trying to meet a deadline, there are two, so things inevitably take longer than you think they will!

The Sixth Wave is your first book. Would you do another the same way?

I would definitely do this again. I think we were lucky in that we worked well together and found our working groove fairly quickly. We both knew our strengths and were happy to play to those rather than either of us trying to dominate the process.

And what advice would you give people on making co-operative writing work?

You have to get on with the person you’re working with! It might sound obvious, but I don’t think The Sixth Wave would have worked nearly as well if James and I had personality clashes.

Work out what you each can bring to the table in terms of skills and strengths. I’m a science journalist, not an economist or innovation theorist, so while I was confident to research and write about the science and technology, and confident in my skills as a writer, I was very happy to defer to James’ expertise when it came to the big picture, the economics, the theory etc.

Have a clear action plan and timeline. We worked chapter by chapter, which suited us, but we did end up with a last minute panic (that lasted about 3 months!). I remember one night where I was so stressed about getting it done that I ended up on the computer at 2am in the morning research carbon trading schemes. At the time my bub Nina was waking up every 1-2 hrs at night so I figured there wasn’t much point in lying in bed freaking out and waiting for her to wake up.

My other advice would be don’t try to conduct interviews with a baby around. I had one horrendous phone interview with a bloke in the UK, while Nina was doing her 100 decibel Bon Scott imitation from her cot in the next room. Does wonders for the concentration.

Finally, what advice would you give aspiring non-fiction writers?

I write about science because I find it fascinating, and I like to think that makes me a better writer, researcher and interviewer. I would say write about something that interests you, or find something interesting in what you write about. It’s very well to want to be a writer, but for me the more important question is ‘what do you want to write about?’.

Bianca Nogrady is a freelance science journalist and broadcaster who has written for publications such as Scientific American, The Australian and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation science and health websites. Bianca lives in the Blue Mountains with her husband and daughter.

Throughout modern history, the tide of innovation and progress has ebbed and flowed but a clear pattern exists – five waves of innovation, beginning with the Industrial Revolution, have each transformed society, economies and industry. The fifth wave was dominated by information and communications technology but a new, brighter star is emerging. The sixth wave of innovation will be about resources – natural resources, human resources and information. THE SIXTH WAVE is a business book, a motivational book, a bold prediction and a roadmap to the future, for anyone interested in understanding how the next wave of innovation will change our lives, and how to succeed in a resource-limited world.

Why Amazon May Not Take Over The World After All

The comprehensive article by Ken Auletta over at the New Yorker this week about the Amazon vs Apple vs Google ebook free-for-all has prompted me to consider how close Amazon came to dominating the publishing industry – particularly when it comes to ebooks.

Now, I don’t want to point fingers or choose sides here. I believe that almost any company in the unique position Amazon has been in for the last few years would have done the same. But there’s a very good argument that what Amazon was trying to do was at least a little bit evil.

Amazon made a tactical error when it remotely wiped copies of 1984 from its customers’ Kindles. This did not prove to anybody that they were not evil.

Basically the story is this: Amazon had a virtual monopoly on the sale of ebooks with the Kindle. And to an extent, they still do. Although there are plenty of other ebook stores, none have the reach, connections, range, consumer trust and reliability that Amazon does. Amazon was trying to set the standard price of ebooks at $9.99. They did this by taking a loss on almost every ebook they sold. But Amazon has deep pockets, and the Kindle to sell, so it was worth it to them to try and grow the industry.

Unfortunately, looking forward, publishers the world over could see that this price point was unsustainable. They feared that as Amazon gained more power over the ebook market, they would force the wholesale price of books down. To quote from the New Yorker piece:

Traditionally, publishers have sold books to stores, with the wholesale price for hardcovers set at fifty per cent of the cover price. Authors are paid royalties at a rate of about fifteen per cent of the cover price. On a twenty-six-dollar book, the publisher receives thirteen dollars, out of which it pays all the costs of making the book. The author gets $3.90 in royalties. Bookstores return about forty per cent of the hardcovers they buy; this accounts for $5.20 per book. Another $3 goes to overhead costs and the price of producing and shipping the book—leaving, in the best case, about a dollar of profit per book.

Obviously these aren’t the exact same margins as in Australia, but they’re very similar, and illustrate my point. What the argument ultimately came down to was this – what is a book really worth? When you take away the cost of printing, which ebooks don’t incur, what should you reasonably pay for a book, and – perhaps more importantly – what does the industry need to receive in order to remain profitable and be able to keep producing books?

The number the industry came up with was $US14.99. They forced Amazon to accept this with the help of Apple and a liberal dose of chutzpah. Google, when it gets into the ebook selling game in the next little while, will help solidify this higher price point.

So, industry saved, right? Right? What do you think? Do you pay too much for books? Would cheaper prices lure you into buying ebooks? Is $AU16 too much for an ebook?

Three Wakefield Press books nominated for Le Cordon Bleu World Food media Awards

The biennial, international food and wine festival “Tasting Australia”, is coming up here in Adelaide in a few weeks time. It is a week long “foodie-fest” which also involves some industry events, including the awarding of the Le Cordon Bleu World Food media Awards. This year South Australia’s own Wakefield Press has had three of their publications nominated for the prestigious awards – “The Blue Ribbon Cookbook“, by Liz Harfull has been nominated for Best Hard Cover Recipe Book (under 35 Euro) and Lolo Hobein’s “One Magic Square” and John Barlow’s “Everything But the Squeal” have both been nominated for Best Food Book.  The nominations come from a jury of over 50 international food industry professionals looking at the best the world has to offer in the field of food media and Wakefield Press have every reason to be deeply chuffed for scooping three nominations in such a competitive arena!

Liz Harfull’s “The Blue Ribbon Cookbook” is a joy to look at and thumb through with the format a credit to the book designer.  It is the first book to pay tribute to the – mostly country – cooks who enter the agricultural and horticultural shows of South Australia.  Inspired by a book of artwork from US State Fair posters and recipes,  Harfull, who is originally from the South East but now lives in the Adelaide hills, spent over  seven months researching and writing, attending the country shows and visiting the prize-winning cooks out of show time.  The book features a story on a prizewinning cook from each of the area shows, with one of their winning recipes.  This isn’t haute cuisine, but the kind of food a lot of us were brought up on – or wish we were – so if you are looking for a completely reliable recipe for lemon slice or homemade pasties, I’d suggest that you start here!  Each entry is accompanied by plenty of full colour photo’s of the cooks and their food, the shows and a wealth of archival photo’s, some dating back to the beginning of the last century.

Lolo Hobien is another denizen of the Adelaide hills, having emigrated with her husband and children to Australia from  Holland in 1958.  She is no stranger to nominations, with “One Magic Square” winning a Gourmand World Cookbook award for Best Innovative Cookbook in 2008 and the Bicentennial/ABC Fiction Award for her earlier novel, “Walk a Barefoot Road”.  In “One Magic Square” she shows how it is possible to have a productive food garden in as little as a single square metre.  With many well-intentioned veggie patches failing because of ambitious beginnings, she suggests designs, planting tips and pointers on soil maintenance which should put home grown produce within the reach of all of us.  Easily accessible for the novice gardener, this book also offers  suggestions for the more experienced gardeners – and I know some – who enjoy dipping in and out at random.

Everything But the Squeal” is written by Englishman John Barlow, who now lives in Spain with his wife and son.  In it, he documents his year of traveling around Galicia to fulfill his goal of eating every bit of the pig which is the dominant meat in that damp, green north-western corner of Spain.  To achieve this he determinedly makes his way through astonishing amounts of rich, fatty, but frequently very tasty piles of pork in every possible incarnation.  In the process he both observes and takes part in many of the cultural celebrations of Galicia, some of them dating back to pagan times, including one called “Dirty Day” which I cannot even begin to describe!   He meets up with some surprising locals and becomes familiar with a breed of pig that was considered extinct up until less than 20 years ago, but is now making it’s way onto the plates of gourmets around the world.  This is really a very affectionate homage to both pork and the people of Galicia and a very amusing read.  Having said that, I did read most of it in one sitting, subsequently dreaming of pork all night and, on waking, felt ever so slightly queasy.

Amanda McInerney is a book and food lover from the Adelaide Hills.  She writes her own foodie blog at: http://lambsearsandhoney.com/

Pet Peeves

“I don’t have pet peeves, I have major, psychotic hatreds.”

– George Carlin

I had expected to be writing Part 2 of ‘The Myth of The Children’s Book’ for this post, but I had a little experience on the weekend that got me thinking about something else.

It was my birthday recently, and those who know me best gave me money for books, books themselves or book vouchers. Armed with the money and the vouchers, I traipsed into one well-known bookstore (that-which-cannot-be-named) and proceeded to the science fiction/fantasy section, as I had a particular book in mind – Heart’s Blood, by Juliet Marillier.

I like to think Australia has pretty much adopted Marillier, even though she was born in the picturesque Dunedin, New Zealand. I don’t know myself whether she refers to herself as a New Zealander, or an Australian, or perhaps a hybrid of the two nationalities. Either way, growing up in such a landscape appears to have a profound effect on one’s imagination, and the books of hers I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing so far (well, singular book: Cybele’s Secret) have such a wonderful ‘otherworldliness’ to them. Suffice to say I was looking forward to holding the much-anticipated novel in my grubby paws, and losing myself to adventure!

Except…it wasn’t on the shelf with all the other Marillier books.

My heart skipped a beat.

“Don’t panic yet”, I told myself, and quickly made my way to the nearest computer help. The title search yielded: “One copy, in store, Sci Fi/ Fantasy”. At this point an assistant happened to pipe up behind me and offer to help in the treasure hunt. We retraced my steps back to the shelf and scanned again. No luck.

“Sooorrry,” said the assistant (I felt he clearly was NOT sorry), and he finished with a smirk, “It obviously hasn’t been bought yet. Maybe it’s in [insert name of ubiquitous coffee shop that accompanies bookstore]”. And off he went.

Call it my inner capitalist, but I get this irritated little itch when I see a person ‘browsing’ through a book for a moment too long and then leaving the store without the book packaged and paid for. It’s the same feeling I get when I view a person flipping through a magazine at the checkout, only to put it back in the stand once their groceries start filing through. So you can imagine my distaste at this answer. No, not distaste – more like this intense fireball of rage that begins in the pit of my stomach and threatens to consume me and ALL IN ITS PATH – Dr Jekyll’s Mr Hyde ain’t got nothin’ on me.

My rage-addled brain was suddenly filled with visions of coffee slopped over pages 49-75, lovesick crumbs of friand cuddling together in the spine, forgotten flakes of filo pastry obscuring the author’s afterword. And worst of all, after the reader had finished his/her little dalliance, the book would lay on its back in the chair, discarded like an old rag.

My senses aligned with superhuman sensitivity, I sniffed my way to the coffee shop area. There he was: Edward Cullen-esque hair, a brooding temperament a la Heathcliff, poised over the coveted Heart’s Blood, lost in thought, pausing only to scribble furiously on the paper next to him. And there was coffee on the table. And a half-eaten sandwich! I was chomping at the bit by this time, ready to pounce. But then, all of a sudden, he stopped scribbling. Got out of his chair, brushed the invisible crumbs off his pant leg, and carried Heart’s Blood to the counter with all the gentle fondness and excitement of a green bridesgroom carrying his new bride across the threshold.

I breathed a sigh of relief. Oh readers, what a prince he was! It dawned on me that I didn’t care if there were sandwich crumbs inside the cover, and I didn’t care if he had ripped the pages with wild abandon to see what was going to happen next. All I cared about, was the fact that the book had found a home, and wasn’t abandoned. Unloved.

I was enlightened! I wasn’t some tyrranical book beast with a capitalist soul, I was a do-gooder for printed media!! It was a great day. We both went our separate ways – the prince and I – happy with our newly acquired purchases (I managed to find other books that interested me, once I had calmed down) and I was safe in the knowledge that somewhere out there, a Marillier book was being cherished.

So what have I learned from this little experience? That my irritation has limitations? Probably. That I can get help for my problem? Probably not. That I’m the Mother Theresa of the bookworld? Definitely.
Perhaps most importantly, I learned that I should have quashed my impatience and simply bought it online from the Boomerang Books website *exaggerated wink*.

Despite the fact that I am now revered in my own mind as a book goddess, there must be plenty more of you out there who feel guilty over your petty pet peeves. Well, no more, my friends! Revel in your pettiness. And know that sometimes, no matter how irrational the irritation, certain ‘unsavoury’ book attitudes can irk even the most patient of booklovers.

So, what book no-nos bring out your Mr Hyde?

THE JOURNEY OF PENNI RUSSON’S “LITTLE BIRD”

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

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

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

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

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

Are any of the characters based on real people?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dee

www.pennirusson.com
www.eglantinescake.blogspot.com

An embarrassing cook-up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clothbound Penguin Classics Spines

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

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