Author Roadshow: Felice Arena, Belinda Murrell and more

It was a thrill to attend the Penguin Random House Young Readers’ Highlights roadshow in Sydney this week.

As well as being told about upcoming books, four authors (three from Victoria – Fleur Ferris, Felice Arena and Robert Newton, and Belinda Murrell from Sydney) shared their books with us. More from them later…

Picture book highlights for me were Anna Walker’s Florette, full of inviting greenery in the heart of Paris (March), The Catawampus Cat by Jason Carter Eaton and Gus Gordon (April), the retro colour palette of Stephen W. Martin’s Charlotte and the Rock (April), We’re All Wonders (April), an adaptation from R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, Deb Abela’s fractured fairytale, Wolfie: An Unlikely Hero (May), Marc Martin’s stylish design in What’s Up Top (September) and Pamela Allen’s A Bag and a Bird, which is set in Sydney (September).

Middle Fiction looks incredible. Felice Arena, author of popular series ‘Specky Magee’ and ‘Andy Roid’, enthusiastically told us about his stand-alone historical fiction, The Boy and the Spy (April). The Anglicised version of Felice (pronounced Fel-ee-chay) is Felix, meaning ‘happiness’, and Felice certainly demonstrated that.

The Boy and the Spy has family at its core, especially foster families. It is set in Sicily in 1945 and is for 10-12 year-old readers. It can be read at one level or the layers in its text can be uncovered. Felice hopes that it will inspire readers about travel, history and art. He loves writing ‘movement’ and has tried to emulate the stimulating experience given by teachers who read aloud and stop at the end of a chapter. Felice enjoyed researching and talking to relatives and has devised some entertaining Morse Code activities for school visits.

Other titles I can’t wait to read are Skye Melki-Wagner’s ‘Agent Nomad’ series (March) about a magical spy organisation with an Australian feel. I loved Skye’s stand-alone YA fantasy The Hush. Talented Gabrielle Wang has written and illustrated The Beast of Hushing Wood (April), another of Gabrielle’s original magical realist stories. I facilitated a session with Gabrielle at the Brisbane Writers Festival in the past and the children adored her. My favourite of her books are In the Garden of Empress Cassia and The Pearl of Tiger Bay.

Ally Condie returns with Summerlost (May), the irrepressible Oliver Phommavanh with Super Con-Nerd, Morris Gleitzman with Maybe (September) and Tristan Bancks with The Fall (June), a fast-paced thriller with disappearing characters. It will no doubt follow Tristan’s assured debut into literary-awarded fiction, Two Wolves. Tamara Moss’ Lintang and the Pirate Queen (September), a quest on the high seas, looks very appealing.

The charming Belinda Murrell spoke about her popular backlist of the ‘Sun Sword’ trilogy, timeslip tales and ‘Lulu Bell’ and introduced her new series for tweens, ‘Pippa’s Island’ (July), which reminded me of Nikki Gemmell’s ‘Coco Banjo’ but with more sand and sea.

And the wonderful Jacqueline Harvey’s ‘Alice-Miranda’ and ‘Clementine Rose’ series have sold 1 million copies in Australia and worldwide. We celebrated with a special cake. 

I’ll roundup YA at the roadshow in a second post.

Review – Lulu Bell and the Moon Dragon

Memories of school holidays for me involved curling up in a cool corner somewhere in the backyard with my friends. I was pretty tight with Trixie Beldon in those days but always had more of an affiliation with animals than solving mysteries. If Lulu Bell had been around some 38 years ago, she would have definitely been in my inner circle of companions.

She’s extremely likeable, has long plaitable hair, a smile wider than a banana and best of all adores animals. She’s also the central character in the enchanting Lulu Bell series by Belinda Murrell and Serena Geddes. And now, finally, my seven year old past-self is able to befriend her.

Lulu Bell Cubby and Moon Dragon Lulu Bell and the Cubby Fort and Lulu Bell and the Moon Dragon are the third and fourth books in this series about the Bell family and their menagerie of friends, many of them of the furred or feathered kind. Each generously illustrated book centres on a new adventure or incident young Lulu encounters, often arising from her experiences at home and around her father’s work as a vet.

These books are ideal to read in succession or as stand-alone chapter books and are perfect fodder for the insatiable new reader.

L Bell Cubby Fort The Cubby Fort invites us to spend the Easter holidays with Lulu on her Uncle’s farm. The Bell family load up kids, dogs and tents and experience an eventful weekend surrounded by country, cows, cousins and mud. Lots and lots of mud. But when baby brother, Gus, goes missing, fun turns to fear and Lulu is forced to assume the role of Trixie Beldon to solve his disappearance.

L Bell Moon Dragon The Moon Dragon is an illuminating look at friendships and celebrating shared passions and different cultures. Lulu’s best friend, Molly, welcomes her to help with preparations for the Moon Festival. Together, they make dragon costumes, paper lanterns and mouth-watering moon cakes. Excitement grows faster than a full moon, swelling into a colourful parade involving the whole community and the two girls of course.

The language used throughout these books is bouncy and basic enough for young readers to digest whilst cleverly touching on gentle, non-invasive sub-themes such as Molly overcoming her social shyness. I also appreciated Murrell’s lovely sensitivity regarding ‘alternative’ views and thinking depicted by Molly’s mum who fills this year’s moon cakes with jam instead of the traditional red bean paste and salty eggs.

Belinda Murrell Belinda Murrell is a respected author for children with an impressive and solid stable of books including the Sun Sword fantasies and her fascinating historic time-slip tales, like The River Charm. Her convincing narratives draw discerning readers in from the start and in the case of Lulu Bell, have upbeat satisfying conclusions.

The Lulu Bell series draws on Murrell’s own experiences from growing up in a vet hospital and is wickedly good, old-fashioned fun for younger kids, whilst also tapping directly into one of the most keenly pursued topics of vocational interest for girls aged between 6 and 9.

Serena Geddes Serena Geddes’s lively black and white line drawings reflect each adventure perfectly, prompting readers as young as 5 and 6 to keep page flicking.

So I may not have fulfilled my dream of becoming a vet. At least I have made a new friend in Lulu Bell and am happy to see how her dreams pan out.

Fill up your child’s memories these school holidays with Lulu too. Two new enticing titles are due out early January 2014: Lulu Bell and the Circus Pup and Lulu Bell and the Sea Turtle, both available hereL Bell Circus Pup

Random House for Children 2013

 

Player Profile: Belinda Murrell, author of The River Charm

Belinda Murrell, author of The River Charm

Belinda Murrell closeupTell us about your latest creation:

One of my new books is The River Charm, which is a very special book to me, because it is based on the true life adventures of my great-great-great grandmother, Charlotte Atkinson. Set in Australia, during the 1840s, it is the story of a family who lost everything but fought against almost insurmountable odds to regain their independence and their right to be together as a family. Charlotte was born into a wealthy family at Oldbury, a grand estate in the bush. But after her father dies, her mother is left to raise four young children on her own. A young widow was a tempting target – from murderous convicts, violent bushrangers and worst of all, a cruel new stepfather. Fearing for their lives, the family flees on horseback to a remote hut in the wilderness. The Atkinson family must fight to save everything they hold dear.

9781742757124Where are you from / where do you call home?:

I live at Manly on Sydney’s northern beaches.

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

I wanted to be a vet, just like my dad, which was one of the reasons I was inspired to write my new Lulu Bell series, about a girl growing up in a vet hospital, having lots of adventures with friends, family and animals.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

I am very excited about my new book The River Charm. This book was inspired by the lives of my ancestors, the Atkinsons of Oldbury and I spent months researching it. The book has received some fantastic reviews which have likened it to the classic Australian tale – Seven Little Australians.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

I have a beautiful office, overlooking the garden, with a fireplace and hundreds of books. My dog Asha sleeps in front of the fire keeping me company. It is usually orderly but as I get closer and closer to deadline, it does, just like my life, get messier!

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

I read lots of things! The books I have recently read include Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth and The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis. I loved its enticing mixture of fantasy and adventure, and the idea that you could step through a hidden door into another magical world.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

I would love to be Eliza Bennett in Pride and Prejudice.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

Mustering cattle on my brother’s farm, riding my Australian stockhorse.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

Can’t write a book without my morning coffee, and for late night energy – chocolate! Although for real food I do love Vietnamese salads and Thai red chicken curry.

Who is your hero? Why?:

My heroine at the moment is Charlotte Atkinson, my great-great-great-great grandmother, who fought against almost insurmountable odds for what she believed in, wrote the first children’s book published in Australian in 1841 and happens to be one of the star characters in my new book, The River Charm!

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

Making sure that authors and publishers can afford to keep producing good quality, gorgeous books.

Website URL: www.belindamurrell.com.au

Doodles and Drafts – Charmed with Belinda Murrell

BinnyashakissWhen bestselling, award-winning children’s author Belinda Murrell requested a chat, I was delighted to oblige. And with the dual release of The River Charm and the new Lulu Bell series this month, she has much to talk about. So froth up your café au lait, sit back and discover why squishy bananas, suits of chain-mail and not quite becoming a vet make Belinda smile.

Lulu Bell Unicorn.jpg 2 And don’t forget to read on for my review of The River Charm and details of Belinda’s latest book launch this weekend.

Q Who is Belinda Murrell? Describe your writerly-self for us and the thing that sets you apart from other Aussie children’s authors.

I am a children’s author currently writing my eighteenth book! My books range from picture books, a series of three fantasy adventure books for boys and girls aged 8-12, called The Sun Sword Trilogy and a series of time-slip historical adventure books for older girls called The Locket of Dreams, The Ruby Talisman, The Ivory Rose and The Forgotten Pearl. My latest books include The River Charm and a series of six books called Lulu Bell for younger readers.

I love to write for children because I love their whole hearted passion and enthusiasm for books. I am also very inspired by the incredible talent we have here in Australia. There are so many wonderful authors, illustrators, and publishers who are committed to creating exceptional books for our children. I like to think that my books are joyful, thought provoking and vivid.

Sun Sword TrilogyQ Describe your 10 year old self. Did you have any concept then of what you wanted to do or be when you grew up? If so, what was it?

I was a tomboy, with long golden plaits, who loved climbing trees, riding horses, reading books, looking after my animals and sword fighting! I loved writing, and ‘self-published’ novels, poems, plays and stories from about the age of eight in hand illustrated exercise books. However at that age I dreamed of being a vet when I grew up, just like my dad. I didn’t realise that you could have a career as a writer.

Q You write for a wide selection of age groups and children’s genres. Which one do you enjoy the most and why?

My favourite age to write for is probably between 10 and 15. At that age, readers are still young enough to be totally entranced by a story and to love it passionately. However they are also old enough to want to read about more complex issues – history, tragedy, love, loss and redemption. However it has been so much fun to write the much shorter Lulu Bell books for readers aged about 6 to 9.

The River CharmQ Who / what inspired the characters in The River Charm?

The River Charm is a very special book to me, because it is based on the true life adventures of my great-great-great grandmother, Charlotte Atkinson. Set in Australia, during the 1840s, it is the story of a family who lost everything but fought against almost insurmountable odds to regain their independence and their right to be together as a family. Charlotte was born into a wealthy family at Oldbury, a grand estate in the bush. But after her father dies, her mother is left to raise four young children on her own. A young widow was a tempting target – from murderous convicts, violent bushrangers and worst of all, a cruel new stepfather. Fearing for their lives, the family flees on horseback to a remote hut in the wilderness. The Atkinson family must fight to save everything they hold dear.

Q If you could time slip back to the era of the 1840’s, would you? Why?

Yes! I’d love to visit Oldbury (the house that my great-great-great-great grandparents built) and meet the Atkinson family to see how they compare with my imaginings about them. I feel that I know these characters intimately after spending a year researching their lives and adventures. It would be amazing to meet them in real life.

Q What was the most despised thing you’ve ever found in your school lunchbox?

Squished banana and soggy celery.

Lulu PenguinQ Do you think childhood happenings shape your adult writing voice and style? Have yours? Share one moment from your past which has direct bearing on your present.

Yes absolutely. I had a wonderful childhood – full of books, animals and adventures. My mother encouraged us to be creative and imaginative whether it was reading lots of books, writing our own stories, playing imaginative games or just having the time to daydream. She always encouraged us to aim high and be the best we could possibly be. On the other hand, my father was very adventurous – travelling the world and disappearing for months at a time. He used to take us off on amazing trips – sailing the ocean, horse-riding and camping out on remote cattle stations. As a result I have always loved to travel and have had some incredible adventures. Many of these childhood experiences have made their way into my writing. My new Lulu Bell series is very inspired by my childhood, as it is about a girl called Lulu growing up in a vet hospital, just like I did as a child. We had so many animals, including a pony called Rosie who lived in our back garden in suburban Sydney. If anyone left the back door ajar – she was straight into the kitchen searching for snacks. This particular incident inspired a key scene in Lulu Bell and the Birthday Unicorn.

Q Do you have favourites? If so list your favourite read of all time, holiday spot and most memorable breakfast and why.

Favourite book (so hard to pick only one) but I’ll say Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I discovered Jane Austen’s novels when I was a teenager and immediately loved them. I particularly enjoyed the satirical humour of her novels, the witty dialogue and the insight into late eighteenth century English society. I’m enjoying sharing Jane Austen with my own daughter now.

Favourite Holiday Spot – my brother’s farm at Dungog which we visit as often as we can. This is where I keep my horse Nutmeg. We go up there and work with the cattle, get filthy dirty and ride for hours!

Most memorable breakfast – croissants, omelette and café au lait at our apartment in Paris!! For two years, my family and I travelled while I home schooled my three children. One of my favourite places was staying in an apartment in the Marais district of Paris.

Q Did you have a favourite book character or hero as a child? If you could incorporate that character into one of your own stories, which would it be and why?

When I was growing up, I loved Lucie Pevensie from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. I loved the book’s enticing mixture of adventure, action and fantasy. My sister and I would dress up in silver chain mail, with swords and bows and arrows, and play Narnia. I was enraptured by the idea that it might be possible to pass through a secret door into a magical world, full of talking animals and adventure.

In a way, my heroine Tilly in The Ruby Talisman was like Lucie. With an old family heirloom, she found her way into another world. It was the colourful, dangerous and vibrant world of France in 1789 during the French Revolution. However Tilly was a more modern, feisty heroine than Lucie – and yes, she could fight with a sword!!

Kate and BelindaQ What other Aussie children’s book author(s) do you admire the most and why? (sisters allowed!)

Of course I adore my sister Kate Forsyth. She is an amazing writer and has an incredible knowledge of the publishing industry. We are also very good friends and walk together regularly along the beach, talking about writing, books and our latest plot tangles!

Q Do you write every day? Do you have a special spot or routine to make the magic happen or can you write anywhere, any time?

Yes – I try to write every day, unless I am out visiting schools and festivals. I work in my beautiful office, which is lined with hundreds of books, has a fireplace and looks out over my gorgeous garden. My dog Asha keeps me company, sleeping in front of the fire. I usually get all my kids organised for school, take my dog for a walk along the beach, come home make a coffee, sit down and start writing!

Q Name one ‘I’ll never forget that’ moment in your writing career thus far.

Definitely the moment when my agent, Pippa Masson, rang to tell me that Random House wanted to publish not just my first book, but a three book deal for The Sun Sword Trilogy! We cracked bottles of the finest French champagne and my feet didn’t touch the ground for days!

Q Name one non-writing goal you’d like to achieve in this lifetime.

To see my three beautiful children grow up to be warm, funny, loving, joyful and inspiring adults. Luckily they are all well on the way!

Q What is on the draft table for Belinda?

I am now writing book 6 in my Lulu Bell series, for junior readers, which is called Lulu Bell and the Sea Turtle. However it is a bit of a struggle to concentrate at the moment with all the launch activities. The book is due to my publisher, Zoe Walton, next week so I’d better get cracking with it!!

A Mother's Offering to her ChildrenReview – The River Charm

Until I’d meet Belinda and immersed myself into the absorbing world of The River Charm, I had not given much thought to the first Australian children’s book; what it was about, who wrote it or when it first appeared. The River Charm introduces us to this fascinating period of colonial artistic and literary history with the help of a much cherished river pebble charm which unlocks modern-day Millie’s astonishing 19th century ancestry.

Many aspects of early Australian society may intrigue young readers but probably receive as much serious consideration as the first ever Australian published children’s book does. Murrell successfully weaves fact and fiction together in a mesmerising time-slip historical tale based on her own great-great-great-great-grandmother, Charlotte Waring Atkinson who penned, A Mother’s Offering To Her Children in 1841. For me, as much as for Millie, this is an awe-inspiring discovery.

Murrell’s admirable female heroines including the fearless Mamma and her daughter Charlotte, represent the face of human tenacity, and true pioneering spirit surviving amidst the striking yet harsh and unforgiving Australia bush.

It’s a story about endurance and the right to fight for what you believe in. Tween (10-14) girls and lovers of evocative, historical Australian bush themed sagas (the likes of The Silver Brumby that delighted me as a child) will adore The River Charm.

Discover more of Belinda’s enchanting time-slip adventures and books here. Or join her on Friday June 7 for High Tea at Berkelouw Books, shop 24, 215 Condamine St, Stockland Centre, Balgowlah at 6pm for the launch of The River Charm and Lulu Bell. (I’ll be reviewing this fab new series for junior readers later this year.)

Random House Australia Children’s June 2013

 

 

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Belinda Murrell

1. Which genre of children’s books do you like most and why?

My bookshelves have literally thousands of books across lots of different genres so it’s hard to choose! But I think my favourite genres are adventure, history and a twist of magic – so much like the books I love to write myself. Some of the children’s books I enjoy are the Chrestomanci series by Diana Wynne-Jones, Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan, Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord, Eva Ibbotson’s The Star of Kazan, and books by my sister Kate Forsyth such as The Puzzle Ring and the Chain of Charms series. Of my own books, I particularly love the time slip adventures such as The Ivory Rose and The Locket of Dreams.

With these books, I was intrigued by the idea of taking a modern day girl and whisking her back to the past, where life was so different, and seeing how that modern child would cope and react. These heroines have all sorts of thrilling adventures and find strength they never knew they had.

2. Which books did you love to read as a young child?

Almost anything and everything!! As a young child, I must confess I was an avid Enid Blyton fan. Her books had humour, adventure, excitement, magic, friendship and a delightful absence of interfering adults, which I still believe are all wonderful ingredients for an enthralling children’s book

I adored the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis especially The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and The Horse and His Boy. With these books, I loved their enticing mixture of adventure, action and fantasy. My sister and I would dress up in silver chain mail, with swords and bows and arrows, and play Narnia. I was enraptured by the idea that it might be possible to pass through a secret door into a magical world, full of talking animals and adventure.

When I was a bit older I loved lots of the classics such as Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner and My Brilliiant Career by Miles Franklin, as well as The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkein.

3. Which three attributes make for a great children’s book?

Lovable characters, who aren’t perfect, that you truly care about. Exciting and adventurous action, which keeps you reading late into the night. A vivid and exotic setting which seems so real you think you are actually there. Most of the books I’ve mentioned above would cover these key attributes but one of the best examples would of course be the Harry Potter series.

4. What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read?

Make reading a huge part of your family life. Share books with your kids and talk about them. Create inviting reading nooks such as a comfy arm chair by the fire, with a pile of books beside it. Take turns reading out loud in the car or in the kitchen while cooking. Let your kids see you reading. Buy books as presents and rewards. Turn off the TV and make time in your routine for children to read for enjoyment every day. Make sure it’s fun!!

5. Name three books you wish you’d written.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

Possession by AS Byatt

About Belinda

At about the age of eight, Belinda Murrell began writing stirring tales of adventure, mystery and magic in hand illustrated exercise books. Now, Belinda Murrell is a bestselling children’s author currently writing her fourteenth book, which range from four picture books for pre-schoolers, to junior fiction. These include the fantasy-adventure series for boys and girls aged 8 to 12 called The Sun Sword Trilogy (The Quest for the Sun Gem, The Voyage of the Owl and The Snowy Tower). Her time-slip series includes The Locket of Dreams, The Ruby Talisman and The Ivory Rose – a 2012 CBCA Notable Book. Belinda’s new book, The Forgotten Pearl is an exhilarating wartime adventure set in Darwin and Sydney. Belinda’s books have been shortlisted for various awards and selected for the NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge.

www.belindamurrell.com.au

 

Boomerang @ Bookfeast 2009

Whenever William the author is invited to an event, William the Boomerang Blogger gets indirectly invited too. On Wednesday, NSW authors and illustrators braved the orange dust storm, and headed into the CBD for this year’s Bookfeast, a great event organised by Haberfield school librarian Michael Fraser.

Some Boomerang Books Blog alums were there, including Deborah Abela, Belinda Murrell, Richard Harland and Kate Forsyth. Also there was Susanne Gervay, whose I Am Jack’s stage adaptation by MonkeyBaa is on until October 2 at the Seymour Theatre and is the talk of the town, Duncan Ball, Sue Whiting, Jenny Hale, and my current favourite (and the insanely funny) illustrator Sarah Davies, who was just awarded Best New Young Illustrator by the CBCA for the powerful Mending Lucille.

Now, pictures!

A Sibling’s Review…

Author siblings are pretty rare – and with Kate Forsyth being featured on the blog, and her new novel The Puzzle Ring featuring in our giveaway for the month (click HERE for your chance to win), I knew I just couldn’t pass off the opportunity to approach her sister, author Belinda Murrell for her honest take on her sister’s work. Naturally, a little part of me was hoping for the claws to come out and some brutal sibling competitiveness to really take centre-stage, but really, there’s none in sight. And while she might be quick to admit possible bias, Belinda’s review simply echoes the praise I’ve read for the book in reviews from other sources.

The Puzzle Ring by Kate Forsyth
(Pan Macmillan)
Age 10+ Fiction

Hannah Rose Brown is an ordinary Australian 12-year-old. Or so she thinks. Until a mysterious letter arrives from her long-lost great-grandmother in Scotland, which shatters Hannah’s life and everything she believed about herself.  Hannah is actually the great-granddaughter of a countess, and heir to a Scottish castle. Worst of all her family is cursed by dark magic. Hannah must travel back in time to Scotland in the time of Mary, Queen of Scots, to try to find the Puzzle Ring, break the curse and save the father she has never met.

The Puzzle Ring weaves together the fascinating history of sixteenth century Scotland, with a rich vein of magic including fairies, hag-stones, water horses, witches and ancient spells.

Kate Forsyth is a wonderful story-teller. Her characters are vibrant and engaging, the plot thrilling and the setting evocative. I am, of course, deeply biased as Kate is my sister! This book is based on stories told to us when we were children by my Scottish grandmother and great-aunts, so I can truly taste the marmalade cakes. I loved The Puzzle Ring, and I am sure so too will many, many children around the world.

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Belinda Murrell is author of The Sun Sword Trilogy and The Locket of Dreams, a novel for children aged 8+, which is set in contemporary Australia and Scotland and Australia during the 1850s. Coincidentally The Locket of Dreams is also inspired by stories told by her Scottish grandmother.  That’s what happens when you grow up in a story-telling family! For more information about Belinda and her writing, click here.