Best YA Novels for 2015 and looking into 2016

a single stoneAustralian YA writing is powerful, fresh and imaginative, creating spaces for thought and wonder. The finest novels from 2015’s field in my view are Meg McKinlay’s A Single Stone, an exquisitely written dystopia about lean girls who tunnel through stone. Younger readers in upper primary school can also read it and I hope that it finds a niche as a contemporary classic.

Lili Wilkinson’s Green Valentine is a hilarious tale about popular girl Astrid and how she and Hiro transform their ugly suburb through guerilla gardening. Humour is difficult to write and Wilkinson shines in this, as well as inspiring readers to beautify their surroundings with nature.

The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex by Gabrielle Williams is another urban caper loosely based on the real-life theft of a Picasso painting. Books about the arts often rank highly with me, as do books with an interesting structure.

Fiona Wood’s Cloudwish centres on Vietnamese-Australian scholarship girl Vân Uoc Phan who adores Jane Eyre. The story becomes magically surreal when she wishes that she “fascinates” Billy Gardiner.

Truth about Peacock BlueRosanne Hawke (interviewed here) writes hard-hitting yet compassionate stories based on young people in dire situations, often in Pakistan. Her latest, The Truth About Peacock Blue follows Christian girl, Aster who is accused of blasphemy by her Muslim teacher. Her life is at risk. A number of topical issues are raised with sensitivity and balance.

Trinity Doyle’s Pieces of Sky is an exciting debut. Doyle is part of a group of female Australians who debuted with a splash in 2015. (I’ve interviewed many Australian authors on the blog.)

My international picks are award-winner Patrick Ness’s The Rest of Us Just Live Here, which follows the kids who aren’t in the cool group.

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead is about Bridget whose friends seem to be growing up faster than she is. Stead always does something to surprise and parts of this novel are told in 2nd person. It’s clever and intriguing.

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy is a (mostly) feel-good story about a big girl who enters a beauty pageant.

Cat with the coloured tailHighlights for younger readers are Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars by Martine Murray, The Cat with the Coloured Tail by Gillian Mears, illustrated by Dinalie Dabarera, and Star of Deltora by living “imaginarium” Emily Rodda.

I can’t wait to read novels coming for young people in 2016, including Iris and the Tiger by Leanne Hall, A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee, Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman, A Tangle of Gold by the luminous Jaclyn Moriarty and James Roy’s new YA novel.

Alison Goodman and Eon

EonAlison Goodman. It’s a name you hear often, usually in conjunction with phrases like “award winning” and “best selling”. She is, of course, the author of Eon, Eona and the newly released A New Kind of Death. A few months ago, I read her novel Eon, and I can certainly understand what all the fuss is about.

I first met Alison at Continuum 8 in June 2012. [see “The upcoming Nat Con”] She was one of the guests of honour. I went along to her guest of honour speech and I was also on a couple of panels with her. At that stage, I had never read any of her work. I was so impressed by her, that after the convention was over I immediately hopped online and bought a Alison Goodmancouple of her books. Eon is the first of them that I’ve read. I’ve got the sequel, Eona, as well as Singing the Dogstar Blues and A New Kind of Death on my must-read-soon pile. In fact, I ended up going along to the launch of A New Kind of Death in December last year.

I’ve got to say that I was completely blown away by Eon. The breadth and scope of the world is breathtaking, and the characters are compelling. Even several months after having read the novel, the characters still live and breathe in my mind. That is the mark of a truly outstanding book.

Perhaps what I enjoyed most about this book is that it was nothing like what I expected. Judging by the cover, I thought I would get a typical fantasy epic in which warriors fought dragons. I was wrong. Dragons are an integral part of the story — but they are not ‘ordinary’ physical dragons (and I won’t say more than that on the subject, for fear of spoilers). Eon is also a story of political intrigues, relationships and power struggles. It is a story of one girl’s fight against the odds in a society heavily weighted against her. And all this is set in a world that strikes me as an alternative universe ancient China.

I also want to mention the ‘girl disguised as a boy’ plot device (that’s not much of a spoiler as it is revealed early on). This is a stock standard device often used by authors of YA fiction (would you believe that I’m even considering it for a future project), and one that is in danger of being a little predictable and passé. But it is used to excellent effect in Eon and is woven through the plot with many subtleties.

Final word: Brilliant! Go read it — NOW!

Blatant self-promotional bit at the end
(WARNING! WARNING! Stop reading now if self-promotion offends you. 🙂 )

Alison Goodman was kind enough to launch my latest book, Life, Death and Detention, last year. I’ve blogged about it before, but in case you missed it, here’s the vid…

Catch ya later,  George

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Launching with fame

If you ever manage to get someone famous to say nice things about your book… for goodness sake, get a record of it. I wish I had thought to do that at the launch of Gamers’ Quest, back in 2009. Carole Wilkinson, author of the Dragonkeeper novels (Blood Brothers being the latest) gave a lovely launch speech… but at the time, flustered and nervous as I was about the launch, it never occurred to me to record it. I have learnt since then.

When the sequel, Gamers’ Challenge, was launched by Michael Pryor (author of The Laws of Magic series) in 2011, I made sure to ask his permission about videoing it and distributing it on YouTube. And, of course, I did the same last month when Alison Goodman (author of Eon and Eona) launched the new edition of my YA short story collection, Life, Death and Detention.

In preparation for this post, I hopped on to YouTube and did a bit of searching, and I was devastated to discover that I was not the first author with the foresight to record and upload a book launch. 😉 If you like book launches, go take a look. But here’s one I picked out for you. It’s Jack Heath, author of The Lab and many other books, launching KJ Taylor’s The Shadow’s Heir. The vid is handheld and a little shaky, but it’s a great speech.

KJ explains that one of the reasons she asked Jack to launch her book, was that he was a good “speechifier”. And she’s not wrong.

I did something a little different with my latest launch video. I divided it, separating my speech from Alison Goodman’s. I figured that people were more likely to watch shorter vids, and I was curious to see just how many more ‘watches’ Alison’s would get — after all she is waaaaaaaaay more famous than me. I’m now hoping some of that fame rubs off. 😉

Anyway… may I now present for your viewing pleasure, the wonderful Alsion Goodman launching Life, Death and Detention

Now, here’s my speech from that launch. It was a little more wordy than Alison’s, and my camera cut out in protest before I finished. Everyone’s a critic!

And for old time’s sake, here’s Michael Pryor launching Games’ Challenge last year…

Catch ya later,  George

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Life, Death and Detention

In my last post I told you about the journey of my YA short story collection, Life, Death and Detention, from original publication in 1999 to a new publisher in 2012. (see “The long and winding road to a new edition”) Today, I’ll tell you a little about the preparation of the new edition.

I had already completed the updating of the stories, taking them from their original 1990s setting and bringing them into the 21st Century, by the time I signed my contract with Morris Publishing Australia. In the 1990s teenagers did not carry around mobile phones, Internet access was via dial-up and not every household had it, and so email was not as common a form of communication as it is today. This was the main sort of updating that I did — inserting some current technology. I also updated some of the pop culture references, and provided reasons for the kids to be making some of the other outdated references. Finally, I took the opportunity to ‘clean up’ some unclear prose that was a result of my lack of experience (it was my first book, after all). Beyond these updates, I resisted the urge to make any other changes, as I didn’t want to alter the intent of the stories.

So then, Elaine Ouston from Morris Publishing Australia gave the manuscript another edit — going through it with a fine tooth comb and picking me up on a few points. I hadn’t realised, for instance, that I had rather over-used the word ‘momentarily’.

It was during this stage that some concern was expressed over the endings of two of the stories — “Life, Death and Detention” and “On the Edge of a Knife”. The publisher showed the manuscript to a couple of teachers and they too were a little worried that young readers might interpret the uncertain endings as an endorsement by the author of the questionable choices made by the characters. It’s an interesting reflection of our times that no such concerns were expressed during the book’s original publication. I wonder if this is because of recent suicides and violence among teenagers?

If there was a new collection with previously unpublished stories, I would have looked at rewriting those two stories. As this was a reprint, I felt strongly about not changing the endings or the intention of the stories. But I could also see my publisher’s point. I would hate to give young readers the wrong impression — especially with regards to topics such as bullying, suicide, guns and knives.

I thought long and hard about this issue and finally suggested a way of dealing with it. I’d leave the stories as they were but I would write an afterward for each of them, explaining my intentions and making it very clear that I did not condone the actions of the characters. This worked out to be the perfect solution. We decided that I would write a similar afterword for each of the stories, thus providing an extra resource for classroom study.

It was smooth sailing from there on, as the book was laid out and my wife finished designing the cover. It was released last month and is currently available in bookstores across the country — although I would recommend purchasing it right here from Boomerang Books. 🙂 The book will be officially launched by Alison Goodman (author of Eon, Eona and Singing the Dogstar Blues) at Mentone Grammar on 13 August. Am I excited? You bet!

Tune in next — when I shall momentarily put aside my impulse to tell you more about Life, Death and Detention — for a post that has nothing to do with any of my books. 😉

Catch ya later,  George

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The upcoming Nat Con

If you’re a regular reader of Literary Clutter, then you’ve probably figured out that I’m a wee bit of a science fiction fan. So, of course, each year I attend my local science fiction convention, Continuum. This year they are up to the eighth one. And, this year Continuum is also doubling as the 51st Australian National Science Fiction convention. So you can expect it to be on an even bigger and better level of awesome than it usually is. Am I excited? You bet!

International guest of honour this year is award-winning author and anthologist Kelly Link. Her books include Stranger Things Happen and Magic for Beginners. For five years she has been co-editor of The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror (St. Martin’s Press) and she also edited the anthology Trampoline. She has won the Nebula, the James Tiptree Jr. and the World Fantasy Awards. To be perfectly honest, I had never heard of her prior to the announcement of her attendance at Continuum 8. But I look forward to hearing her speak and finding out a bit more about her writing… and perhaps even buying some of her books and getting them autographed.

Australian guest of honour is Alison Goodman, author of New York Times Bestselling fantasy novels Eon and Eona. Her books have been shortlisted for numerous awards and she has won the Aurealis Award a couple of times. I have heard of her. 🙂 Although I haven’t read any of her books yet. 🙁 She’s one of those authors I keep meaning to read, but just haven’t gotten around to yet. Perhaps hearing her speak at Continuum with inspire me to get a move on.

Aside from the guests of honour, there will be a plethora of authors in attendance, speaking on panels, doing readings and generally wandering about. These include: Jenny Blackford, Russell Blackford, Sue Bursztynski, Trudi Canavan, Lisa Hannett, Narrelle M Harris, Margo Lanagan, Kirstyn McDermott, Jason Nahrung, Michael Pryor, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Lucy Sussex, Kaaron Warren and others too numerous to mention.

I’ll be there, speaking on a few panels, including…

Short Shrift
Along with Peta Freestone, Steve Cameron and Kate Eltham
YA spec fic is booming in long form, but relatively uncommon in short form. Why is this? What are the challenges and opportunities for proponents of YA short fiction?

Good Things Come In Small Packages
Along with Cat Sparks, Kelly Link, Jonathan Strahan and Stephen Dedman
Short stories are the life-blood of speculative fiction, and speculative genres among the last still-flourishing domains of the modern short story. What makes the two fit so well together?

Book Trailers
Along with Travis McKenzie, Margo Lanagan and Cheryse Durrant
The new trend in book promotion. We discuss what makes a good one, what doesn’t work and why.

Let’s Traumatise The Kiddies
Along with Deborah Green and Melissa Walter
Kids are often more resilient than adults give them credit for — not to mention more bloodthirsty — but how much is too much? Have attitudes changed over time, and in what directions? Join us for a discussion of shocking moments in children’s television past and present.

Crossing The Divide
Along with Alison Goodman, Tor Roxburgh, Jenny Blackford and Narrelle Harris
Once you’ve written in one genre are you pigeonholed there for the rest of your career? Our panellists discuss how they’ve been able to write across borders.

Book blogs & Reviewing
Along with Sue Bursztynski, Alexandra Pierce, Gillian Polack and Sean Wright
Blogging has meant an explosion in book reviewing and discussion, but what makes good reviews and blogs? What boxes does a book have to check to receive 5 stars?

But what am I looking forward to the most? The Great Doctor Who Smackdown, during which I and fellow author Narrelle M Harris get to spend an hour arguing over various nitpicky elements of Doctor Who. 🙂

Continuum 8 will also see the announcement of the Chronos Awards (honouring excellence in Victorian science fiction, fantasy and horror) and Ditmar Awards (honouring excellence in Australian science fiction, fantasy and horror). Check out the list of nominees (here and here). Lot of great stuff being nominated… and no, I’m not just saying that ‘cause I’m a nominee.

So… wanna come along? Of course you do! For more info, check out the Continuum website.

Catch ya later,  George

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