Emily Rodda & ‘The Shop at Hoopers Bend’

Emily Rodda is indisputably one of Australia’s best writers and she is also acclaimed around the globe. Many of her works, of which I have a large collection in my bookshelf, are contemporary classics where she conjures magical worlds based in both reality and fantasy that resonate with all young people and kindle their imaginations. 

I can’t overstate her gifts and importance to countless children’s (and adults’) lives and am unbelievably excited that she has agreed to speak to Boomerang Books Blog.

Emily, I have heard you say that some of your characters have been based on your own children. Have you written a character based on yourself? If so, who?

A: It’s fairly common for writers to draw on autobiographical material in their early books, and I was no exception. Lizzie, the mother of the main character in my first book, Something Special, is a light but quite faithful sketch of me—as I was at that time, anyway. Normally I don’t base characters on real people, though. It’s more interesting to let characters grow into themselves as the book develops.

 

How do you create a magical element in a realist setting? How do you know how much magic to include?

A: I’ve always seen the potential for magic in ordinary things, people and places. Most people have experienced odd things at one time or another—a weird string of coincidences, maybe, or time apparently going faster or slower than usual, or a strange feeling in an old house, or a flicker of shadow seen out of the corner of an eye … I’ve written stories based on all these things. Writing magical reality is just a matter of giving your imagination full play, letting it lead you, allowing yourself to believe, and then writing the story accordingly.

Which of your settings would you like to visit or live in?

But in fact I actually feel as if I have lived in all my other worlds as well. While I was writing Deltora Quest, part of my mind was living in Deltora all the time. It was the same with Rondo, with the world of the Three Doors, and of course with Rowan of Rin. I know them all as well as I know my home place, and I can revisit them any time I like. Rowan’s world is the one I find the most appealing, I think, but this could be because it was the one I wrote about first.

What is your favourite nursery rhyme or fairy tale and have you included it in your work in any way?

A: I can’t say I have an absolute favourite, really, though Little Red Riding Hood has always appealed to me because I like the idea of the big bad wolf impersonating the Granny. I put legendary, fairytale and nursery rhyme characters into the world of Rondo because I see Rondo is a sort of metaphor for the imagination, and of course the tales we’ve heard and read are part of that, all jumbled up in our minds with the things we’ve thought up for ourselves.

The Shop at Hoopers Bend (Angus&Robertson, HarperCollins) is a transcendent tale that made me cry both times I’ve read it but also lifted my heart.

A: Thank you! That’s a wonderful compliment.

You’ve named your main character, Quil (from Jonquil). Why have you chosen this name rather than another winter bulb or flower?

A: I always try to give my characters names that somehow suit their personalities. We have a lot of jonquils in our garden. They aren’t flamboyant and bright. They don’t make big, happy, dancing statements, like daffodils. They’re unobtrusive, but when you get close to them you can see their delicate beauty, and you realise that they have the most beautiful scent. So to me the jonquil was a good symbol for a reserved and sensitive person like Quil.

Could you tell us a little about Quil’s game, ‘Stardust’?  What type of person are you from this game?

A: Having learned that everything on earth contains the dust of long-dead stars, Quil decides that this is the answer to the vexed question of why we are instantly attracted to some people—even feeling as if we have met them before—but are left unsure or even wary about others, however nice they are, till we know them much better. Quil believes we recognise and feel we ‘know’ people whose stardust most exactly matches our own.

This has been an idea of mine for a long time. It applies to places as well as people. Quil takes the theory further by dividing people she meets into types and giving those types star names of her own invention. This helps her to feel in control of her world, to some extent. Her stardust types are very personal to her. I wouldn’t dare say which type she might decide I am. A bit of a mixture, I suspect.

The setting around the character-filled shop at Hoopers Bend is distinctly Australian. How do you create this or other scenes with a minimum of description?

A: That’s quite a hard question to answer, because when I’m writing I don’t think specifically about which words to use. I just put myself into the scene and say what I’m seeing, hearing and smelling. I don’t like to stop the story dead with great slabs of description, preferring to give the atmosphere and appearance of any setting come out through the eyes of the characters as the story moves on.

What did you enjoy reading as a girl?

A: In early primary school I read all the usual Australian children’s classics, The Wind in the Willows, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and lots of Enid Blyton and LM Montgomery books among many others. By the end of primary school I had discovered the Brontes, and after that I read books for adults almost exclusively.

What have you enjoyed reading recently?

A: I’m just reading Hag-Seed, Margaret Atwood’s take on The Tempest, and am enjoying it immensely. Margaret Atwood never fails to amaze me.

Thank you, Emily, and all the best with your wonderful books and their important legacy.

Begin, End, Begin: a #LoveOzYA anthology

I interviewed Danielle Binks, editor of Begin, End, Begin: a #LoveOzYA anthology of Australian YA short stories (HarperCollins)

Where are you based and what is your current role, Danielle?

I live in Melbourne, and currently I wear many hats … I’m a young adult and middle grade literary agent with Jacinta di Mase Management. I’m a writer, editor and book blogger – and most recently I edited and contributed to the HarperCollins book Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology.

How did something you’ve done in the past help you get this position?

From about the ages of 14–21 I wrote a lot of FanFiction. “FanFic”, if you don’t know, is fiction about characters or settings from an original work of fiction, created by fans of that work rather than by its creator.

I wrote a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dawson’s Creek and Twilight fanfic – just because I loved it, and imagining worlds beyond the end of a television season or the last page in a book got my creative synapses firing.

And actually, when I applied for the university course that set me on this path of books – RMIT’s Creative Writing and Editing program – I didn’t have any of my own creative writing to submit for consideration, so I sent through one of my Buffy fanfic pieces. And I got in.

I honestly don’t know that I’d be here today if I hadn’t found a sustaining creative-outlet in FanFiction.

Gabrielle Tozer

How involved are you in Australia’s enthusiastic YA community?

Very. I’ve had my own personal book review blog – Alpha Reader – since 2009 that I still contribute to today. When I started my book blog, I called it “my solo book club” and I just read the books that I wanted to – which just so happened to be a lot of what I’ve always read and gravitated towards – romance and YA. I’d always write these long, rambling and impassioned reviews of YA books, and eventually that led to me being invited to write about youth literature for the Kill Your Darlings online journal, for about 2 years. I always tried to give YA, and Aussie YA especially, the respect and consideration I didn’t think it was getting from mainstream arts media.

Then in 2015 the #LoveOzYA grassroots movement kicked of and I became a proud supporter of that conversation – until I was eventually elected to help form the inaugural and official #LoveOzYA committee, championing Australian YA.

Ellie Marnie

It’s fantastic that females are writing brilliant Oz YA. Even in the recent past there were outcries about lack of female writers being shortlisted for the Older Reader (YA) category in the CBCA, for example, but this year all 6 shortlisted books are by women. I know there are a few around, and you’ve included two in your book, but where have the males gone?

I think it’s all pretty subjective, really – and balances out in the end.

If you look at younger children’s books in Australia (junior fiction and the 8-12 middle grade readership), that category has mostly been male-dominated, and for a long time. The likes of Paul Jennings, Morris Gleitzman, Shaun Tan, Jack Heath, Tristan Bancks, John Flanagan, Andy Griffiths, Oliver Phommavanh…

Michael Pryor

Australia and international YA also has no problem spotlighting fine male authors – Markus Zusak, Jay Kristoff, John Marsden, Patrick Ness, John Green, James Dashner, Rick Riordan, David Levithan, Ransom Riggs, Jay Asher … I think the guys are doing okay.

The fact that the #LoveOzYA Anthology doesn’t have more male writers came down to availability – we did query others, but timelines and deadlines didn’t match up, in the end … but we got two of the finest writers – period! – in Will Kostakis and Michael Pryor.

Will Kostakis

And what we prioritised more was a diversification of story and genres, as opposed to genders.

Could you tell us about Begin, End, Begin, the anthology of Australian YA short stories you’ve edited?

#LoveOzYA was a hashtag that sparked a conversation that created a movement that led to this book … the #LoveOzYA hashtag was created in response to the onslaught of American blockbuster YA that was dominating our bookshelves. And the idea to create an Anthology riffing on that hashtag and grassroots movement was just about showing people all there is to love about Australian YA – and giving us a way to crack open the conversation about supporting local stories and authors.

At the end of the day I think the hashtag, movement and book are all about encouraging Aussie teens to read Australian stories – so they grow into adults who seek out their national literature, and keep our books community alive and thriving.

How was this title selected?

The theme we gave each of the authors to write to was “firsts”. But writing about “firsts” inevitably leads the mind to think about “lasts”. And we found that this second recurring theme emerged in just about all the stories being written – every beginning was an ending too – and we loved that, we wanted to pay tribute to that.

Jaclyn Moriarty

What genres have you included? Was this deliberate, or an outcome of what the authors wrote?

We wanted a big enough theme that all of these eclectic authors could write across multiple genres and really showcase the fact that “Australian stories” are not just set in the outback or small coastal towns …but that Australian stories are ghost stories. And space stories. And anything-else we want them to be! It was very deliberate.

How did you select which authors to invite to contribute to Begin, End, Begin – or did they twist your arm?

Well, when I started approaching authors it was all a very hush-hush secret and embargoed project … but myself and Harper Collins publisher, Chren Byng, started by writing separate lists of – maybe? – 30 authors we’d love to work with. Then we came together and picked out where we had crossovers in our wish-list, and from there it was a matter of going down the line and asking everyone if they were available and would they like to be apart of this amazing project?

I will say that since the Anthology came out, I’ve had a few Aussie YA authors approach me and let it be known that *if* there’s a second, they’d love to be involved.

So. Watch this space.

What brief/guidelines did you give the contributors?

The theme of “Firsts” and a ten thousand-word limit. And that the story had to be original. Then it was a matter of letting their imaginations run wild …

Was there any author you wanted and couldn’t get – and could maybe include in another book? Or an author you want for the future? 

Lili Wilkinson

Yes. And yes. But I won’t say who, because they may be someone I’d like to approach for Anthology No. 2 and I’d quite like any future line-up to be a surprise. But I’ve been asking readers which Aussie authors they’d like to see appear in any future Anthology … and writing down those suggestions too.

There’s definitely a list I’m holding onto.

What have you learned about any of these authors?

I’ve learned that I was absolutely right to have been fans of all of them before embarking on this project … because every single one just astounded me with their generosity and story.

My advice is; don’t just meet your idols – but work with them. See what magic happens.

Who wrote the most unexpected story? Why? 

Danielle Binks

Oh my gosh, – me! I was the unexpected emerging voice in the Anthology, with my story ‘Last Night at the Mount Solemn Observatory’ and there were times when I thought I would be too crippled by self-doubt and imposter syndrome to get it done … but I did and I’m proud of it. And a bit surprised, to be honest.

Mine is a story about a little sister, saying goodbye to her Deaf big brother on his last night in their small town. It’s inspired by my own family, partly – and when I initially spoke about it with our Harper Collins editor, she told me that she loved the idea because she’s CODA (a child of Deaf adults). So we both spent a lot of time getting it right and focusing especially on the rhythms, beauty and rapidity AusLan (Australian sign-language). So I’m proud and surprised by what I accomplished.

Amie Kaufman

Did anyone surprise you by submitting their work early?

I don’t think so? … Amie Kaufman surprised me by being a day late, only because she was getting her friend (who works at NASA!) to read over her story and give some feedback on the logistics and feasibility of her outer-space setting.

I wasn’t upset in the least; I thought it was SO COOL!

And I’d still quite like to get a “NASA-certified” sticker on the front cover because of it. HA!

How did you sequence the stories?

My publisher, Chren, put is so perfectly when she said choosing the sequence would be like putting together the perfect mix-tape. I took that advice and made sure there was a balance of genres (so sci-fi, followed by contemporary, followed by surrealism, followed by contemporary) just to hit those different peaks. And also that long and short stories were side-by-side, so readers wouldn’t get two 10K stories in a row, and become a little weary with lengths.

Was much editing involved throughout? If so, what type of edits?

There was a bit of editing … structural edits for each story, talking out things like character-development and whether or not the story was hitting the right marks at the right times (trickier to do when you have a shorter word-count, and not the length of a novel to ease into dramatic climaxes or subtle denouments). But everyone got there in the end. And there was certainly nobody who needed more editing than anyone else (myself included!)

Alice Pung RoselliPhotography

What do you hope for OZ YA in the near future?

I certainly don’t think that Australian YA is perfect. I think it needs to be more diverse and inclusive, to honestly portray Australia back to its teen readers.

But that being said – I don’t think the representation in Australian YA will get better by us ignoring our national youth literature. I think it will improve by us investing in it, and that’s certainly the route I’m taking.

I’m now a literary agent, and I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m actively seeking and prioritising “Own Voices” stories (a term coined by American YA author Corinne Duyvis, to identify books about marginalised protagonists written by authors who share that same identity.)

And I’m really proud of the fact that the first YA manuscript I sold was a sci-fi, eco-thriller called ‘Borderland’ – written by a debut Indigenous writer and poet, Graham Akhurst (coming out with Hachette, in 2018).

Melissa Keil

I take it as a huge honour, opportunity and responsibility that I’m now in a position to have a say in the Aussie YA of the future … and for my little corner of the books world, I’m going to do all I can to make sure all Australian stories get told, and that as many Aussie teens as possible see themselves in those stories.

Because teenagers who fall in love with their national youth literature, will one day grow up to be adult readers who seek out Australian stories. And everyone has a story worth telling.

Thanks for answering these questions and for all your work in promoting Oz YA literature, Danielle, and all the best with Begin, End, Begin and your other endeavours.

Thank you, thank you, thank you

Remind Me How This Ends by Gabrielle Tozer

Where are you based, Gabrielle, and how are you involved in the YA literary community?

I’ve lived in Sydney for 11 years, went to university in Canberra and grew up in Wagga Wagga. It’s no secret the YA community in Australia is filled with passionate, supportive and hardworking authors, readers, bloggers, bookstagrammers, vloggers, educators, booksellers, librarians, publicists, editors, publishers etc, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it. Writing novels is so solitary and I’m an extrovert – well, most of the time – so I adore the wider community from a social and professional aspect, including participation in festivals, launches, catch-ups, book clubs, Twitter live chats, writing sprints, the list goes on.

You seem to be very active on social media. How does this help (or not help) your work? 

I have a love-hate relationship with social media, especially Twitter. I made a horrifying discovery the other day: I have written almost 46,000 tweets since joining in October 2009 (I won’t tell you how many novels I could’ve written with that number of words but it’s in the double digits). I’m quite all or nothing in everything I do in life so I’ll often have to block myself from social for blocks of time using apps like Freedom or SelfControl – but a large majority of the Australian writing community is online now so I can’t see myself quitting anytime soon! On the upside, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook connect me with other writers, book lovers and pop culture addicts, which has been a joy – I’ve taken many online friendships to the real world, especially in recent years. Believe it or not, it can also be a wonderful source of motivation; I often invite other writers to join me for #500in30 writing sprints on Twitter, where we strive to write 500 words in half an hour, so it can be fruitful. Sometimes.

What does your title, Remind Me How This Ends (HarperCollins), refer to? Which came first, your title, the story or something else?

My novel Remind Me How This Ends is about two characters who don’t know what’s next after high school – and the title refers to decision-fatigue, being stuck at the crossroads and feeling like you missed the memo on getting your life together. My own feelings of uncertainty, grief and heartache came first with this novel, closely followed by the lead characters and storyline. The title came well after I’d finished the first few drafts. My husband, who is my first reader, and I had Adele’s latest album blasting at home one day and he suggested the title ‘Remind Me How This Ends’ to me after listening to the lyrics of her song ‘All I Ask’. I knew it was perfect. (Later that day we realised the lyric ‘remind me how this ends’ was a mondegreen – a misheard lyric – and Adele’s real lyric was ‘it matters how it ends’.)

What is the significance of the cover?
Like the title, Remind Me How This Ends’ cover plays into uncertainty and endings – happy or otherwise.The daisy petals represent that classic idea of ‘They love me, they love not’… but you’ll have to read the novel to find out more!

How does this novel differ from your earlier books? 
Remind Me How This Is Ends is a very personal novel. My heart is smeared on every page of this one. I loved entertaining readers with Josie’s shenanigans in The Intern and Faking It, but I wanted to challenge myself to write something real that connected on an emotional level, even if it hurt. Reading it now, I can see I wasn’t in a great headspace during the drafting process – my characters’ pain is my pain – but the wonderful thing about writing is you can unpack your feelings on the page. I’m proud of this one, mainly because I wasn’t always confident that I’d be able to finish it, so it’s extra special to hold a copy in my hands.

Could you introduce us to the major characters?
Milo and Layla are 18-year-old family friends and former next-door neighbours who haven’t seen each other for five years – not since Layla’s mum died in shocking circumstances when they were 13 and her grieving father whisked her away from their small town of Durnan in the middle of the night. Now, Layla is back – showing up at Milo’s family’s bookstore of all places – and things are even more complicated between them. These two friends are lost, so very lost, but in extremely different ways. Milo’s girlfriend and mates have fled Durnan for jobs and university but he’s stayed behind so feels suffocated by his overbearing parents and indecision. Layla’s spent five years pushing away the memory of her mum, but being back in town with Milo triggers the past in a way she never expected…

Is there a character you would like to write more about?
Maybe Milo’s obnoxious older brother Trent. He was so much fun to write. I’ve met many ‘Trents’ during my time living in Wagga and Canberra – his voice was so clear to me during the drafting process.

Could you describe Milo’s family’s bookshop? How would you change it if you owned it?
The Little Bookshop is quaint, sleepy and, like many of the people and places in Durnan, a little unappreciated – mainly because his father is too busy chasing after another dream! Milo and Trent, who both work shifts at the shop, also don’t treat it with the care it deserves either because they’re too self-absorbed with their own lives. If I owned The Little Bookshop, I would change it in many ways – I’d connect with the Durnan community, add storytime sessions for parents and children, and hire staff who are passionate about books!

Characters remember the picture book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. What other books from your childhood left an impression? 
So many! My parents are former teachers so my childhood was filled with gorgeous stories – and their passion for reading is a big reason why I dedicated my debut picture book Peas and Quiet to them. I still have Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, There’s A Hippopotamus On Our Rooftop Eating Cake, Possum Magic, Wombat Stew, Picasso The Green Tree Frog and Edward the Emu on my bookshelf – and the collection hasn’t stopped growing.

What books are you reading at the moment (or recently)?
I’ve recently finished A.S.King’s Still Life With Tornado, Pip Harry’s forthcoming Because of You, Claire Christian’s forthcoming Beautiful Mess and Catherine Deveny’s Use Your Words. Next on the TBR pile is Madonna King’s Being 14, Maxine Beneba Clarke’s The Hate Race, and Eliza Henry-Jones’ Ache.

Thanks Gabrielle.

It was my pleasure!

Superb Sequels – Picture Book Reviews

We certainly got a buzz upon discovering the latest sequels to a few of our favourite picture books. Still highly capable of capturing our hearts and imaginations, just like their predecessors, these titles don’t disappoint. From forming new friendships to rekindling old ones, from commencing inspiring adventures to revisiting good old-fashioned traditions, preschoolers and early primary aged children will delight in every part of the wonderful journeys these books will take them.

imageSnail and Turtle Rainy Days, Stephen Michael King (author, illus.), Scholastic Press, 2016.

With the same warm and playful narrative and animated illustrations as in the original Snail and Turtle are Friends, King beautifully compliments this sequel with an equally gentle and humbling innocence in its tone. Once again, King has successfully alllured his readers with a tactile, blithe and innovative experience.

Snail and Turtle Rainy Days is a creative and heartwarming tale about going to assiduous measures to help out a friend in need. I also love the undertone that Turtle might possibly be doing so to satisfy his own little pleasures in life! However, children from age three will absolutely soak up these busy characters and adorable qualities in this sunny story set in the rain. See my full review here.

imageI Don’t Want to Go to Bed, David Cornish (author, illus.), Angus & Robertson, 2016.

Immediately following on from its prequel comes the opening line, “Every night when dinner was done, Rollo would cry ‘I Don’t Want To Go To Bed!‘”. Cleverly written and hilariously illustrated by David Cornish, this next title in the series certainly ticks all the stubborn-child-mastering-routines boxes.

In this short and sweet tale, Rollo attempts every excuse under the sun to avoid going to bed. Fortunately, with a little imagination (and perhaps some imperceivable parent influence) Rollo can check off his ‘story, food, water, toilet and monster’ checklist. Is he finally ready for bed?

Bold, vibrant and loud, and exhaustingly true, preschoolers and their parents will both cringe and delight in the arduous strategies determining when and how they will go to bed.

imageMe and Moo & Roar Too, P. Crumble (author), Nathaniel Eckstrom (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

When Me and Moo first made its grand entrance we were udderly – oops, utterly – delighted by this comical tale of friendship between a boy and his mischievous cow companion. Now, roaring onto the scene is their newest comrade, surprisingly delivered straight from the zoo; Roar.

In Me and Moo & Roar Too, it is Me and Moo’s quest to return Roar back to his home-away-from-home after he causes chaos in their house. Although this might be disheartening for readers, they will be reassured to know that every animal is happy in their place of belonging, and that Me and Moo may just encounter yet another wild pet adventure any time soon!

With its child-friendly narrative voice and gorgeously textured and discernibly witty illustrations, this sequel perfectly compliments the first and will have its preschool-aged readers roaring for more.

imageBird and Bear and the Special Day, Ann James (author, illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2016.

In a story of discovering the beauty and nuances of the world around them, Bird and Bear explore nature, science and their close relationship. When they meet again in Bird and Bear and the Special Day, Bird, on her ‘Birdday’ enchants her friend Bear with a series of ‘Eye-Spy’-esque challenges as they take a stroll through the park.

James’ winsome dialogue cleverly integrates concepts of prepositions, opposites and scientific observations, as well as the pressing problem of whether Bear will remember Bird’s Birdday. Watercolours, pencil and pastel tones perfectly suit the whimsical yet tranquil adventure walk and the gentle, harmonious friendship between the characters.

A joyous exploration of words and the outdoors, imagination and strengthening bonds, this series has the magic of childhood autonomy at its forefront. Recommended for children aged three and up.

imageLet’s Play!, Hervé Tullet (author, illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2016. Originally published by Bayard Editions as ‘On Joue?’, 2016.

A brilliant companion to the best-selling books, Press Here and Mix It Up!, pushing boundaries and exciting creative imaginations is the latest by Hervé Tullet; it’s Let’s Play! A genius masterstroke by the artist, engaging readers in a vibrant sensory, kinaesthetic and all-round enjoyable interactive experience.

Instructing its willing participants to join in, the yellow dot pulls us on its journey along, up, down, round and round a simple black line from start to end. With the dot we encounter more dots in primary colours, play games of hide-and-seek, face ominous dark tunnels and black, messy splashes and scribbles, until we finally reach the safety of clean pages and fairy-light-inspired canvases.

Children and adults alike will delight in this gigglicious, playful adventure exploring shape, colour, space and line with its subtly thrilling storyline to tempt your curiosity many times ’round.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review – The Way Back Home

Hello. My name is Tania and I’m an Oliver Jeffers addict.

I’ve actually never laid eyes on The Way Back Home before, which is saying something because I have all book by Mr Jeffers. Somehow this one just kept escaping me. Maybe because every time I went to a shop to look for it, everyone else had bought it. And there’s a reason everyone else keeps buying books by Mr Jeffers.

They are glorious.

In The Way Back Home, we meet a little boy who finds a long-forgotten aeroplane in his closet. So he takes it for a straight-away whirl. As you do. The plane goes higher and higher and higher – until it sputters out of petrol and has to land on the moon.

In a parallel universe (actually, OUR universe), a wee Martian’s spaceship breaks down – and lands on the moon. That’s where the two youngsters meet.

Keen to return home and to help the Martian return home, the little boy jumps down from the moon into the ocean, swims to shore then scurries home for supplies. On the way back to the moon, the Martian drops him a rope and hauls him back up to fix the plane and spaceship. Then it’s time to say goodbye. Will they ever see each other again?

This is a sweetly simply story but it’s the divine, iconic illustrations and delicious subtleties that make Jeffers’ books stand out. His use of emotion and ‘real life kid’ propensity are just beautiful – and have enormous crossover appeal. A story about friendship, adventure and home – this book is wholeheartedly added to my joyful Jeffers collection.

The Way Back Home is published by HarperCollins.

 

NATIONAL YEAR OF READING – PUBLISHER PROFILE – HARPER COLLINS

This is the second part in our series of posts about the publishers – the people who make the books we read. Today we feature HarperCollins, publisher of many well-loved books for children and young adults.

Melanie Saward from HarperCollins talks about the company and the wonderful books they are publishing.

What kind of books do you publish?

HarperCollins publishes lots and lots of different books. We have lots of beautiful picture books, interesting non-fiction, exciting novels, and great stories on our list.

What do you love most about your work?

As a kid I always used to get report cards that said I would be a better student if I ‘put down the book.’ One teacher told me that I needed to concentrate on other things because reading books under my desk wasn’t going to get me a job. I love that I proved him wrong and that reading books is a HUGE part of my job (and that I don’t have to read them under my desk).

Thanks for sharing this wonderful anecdote with us, Melanie. So many readers will relate to this one. I love that you proved your teacher wrong too.

2012 is The National Year of Reading. Why do you think reading is important for both children and adults?

I could go on about why reading is important for hours!

One of the big reasons it’s important, in my opinion, is because reading opens up different worlds, cultures, ways of living and makes the world just that bit smaller. A really good example of that for me recently was reading Anna Perera’s The Glass Collector. This story, about a boy who collects, sorts, and sells the rubbish of Egypt, made me look at things in a different way, and educated me about a group of people I had never heard of before.

What is your current submissions process for authors and illustrators?

We don’t currently accept unsolicited manuscripts. If you’re an aspiring writer or illustrator, I’d recommend contacting your local writers’ centre for advice, or, keeping your eye out for competitions and mentorships that can not only help you develop and refine your skills, but can help catch the eye of agents and publishers.

What were some of your favourite HarperCollins book titles from 2011?

I loved Exile and Muse by Rebecca Lim, which are the second and third books in Rebecca’s wonderful Mercy series about an angel who has been exiled from heaven and who is doomed to return repeatedly to earth inhabiting different people’s bodies and lives; Silvermay by James Moloney, which is the first book in a new fantasy trilogy by one of my favourite authors; Nanberry Black Brother White by Jackie French made me laugh and cry; Divergent by Veronica Roth—a book that was so fast-paced and exciting I didn’t want to put it down; and, the return of Mothball Wombat in Christmas Wombat by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley.

What titles do you have coming up in 2012 that you’re really excited about?

We have so many great books coming this year. One in particular that we’re all really excited about is The Industry by Rose Foster. This is an exciting YA thriller about Kirra Hayward, an ordinary sixteen-year-old girl who stumbles across an unusual puzzle on the Internet and solves it. She’s Kidnapped by a shadowy organisation known only as The Industry, Kirra soon discovers how valuable her code-breaking skills are. And when she stubbornly refuses to help them, they decide to break her by any means at their disposal.

The Hunger Pains by the Harvard Lampoon is a hilarious send-up of the extremely popular Hunger Games and it’s out now! The hero of the story, Kantkiss Neverclean feels unprepared to fight in The Hunger Games, the second highest rated reality TV show in Peaceland, right after Extreme Home Makeover. But when her survival rests on choosing between the dreamy hunk from home, Carol Handsomestein, or the doughy klutz, Pita Malarkey, Kantkiss finds that the toughest conflicts may not be found on the battlefield but in her own heart, which is unfortunately on a battlefield.

The Cartographer by Peter Twohig is also out now. This is a wonderful book about an eleven-year-old boy who witnesses a murder while spying through the window of a strange house. Now, having been seen by the angry murderer, he is a kid on the run. With only a shady grandfather, a professional standover man and an incongruous local couple as adult mentors, he takes refuge in the dark drains and grimy tunnels beneath the city, transforming himself into a series of superheroes and creating a rather unreliable map to plot out places where he is unlikely to cross paths with the bogeyman.

And some last mentions: Fury is the last book in the Mercy series by Rebecca Lim and it’ll be out in May; Tamlyn, the second book in the Silvermay trilogy will be released in June; and, keep an eye out for a gorgeous picture book by Kate Knapp called Ruby Red Shoes in November (and if you’d like to see some advance cuteness, have a look at Ruby’s blog: http://red-shoes-news.blogspot.com.au/

Thanks for sharing all this great information about your new and existing titles, Melanie.  It sounds like Harper Collins has some great things planned for 2012.

 

The Flood

The FloodBrisbane is back on its feet, relatively speaking, but spend any time in the city and you’ll quickly realise that the recent flood is still very much on residents’ minds.

Conversations which are entirely unrelated veer back to the flood. Complete strangers share their own stories or offer condolences and sense of shock and awe. And cafes and restaurants that were flooded but that are now up and operating, pin snaps of the floods to their industrial-sized coffee-making machines—that’s, of course, the direction in which the waiting-for-coffee conversation flows.

I’m part of those conversations, having been evacuated from a client’s at West End, which was badly affected, to my own home at Windsor, which was flooded too. There’s no need to recount my tale here, because I blogged about my experiences at the time. This time I’m blogging about others’ accounts of the floods that affected the greater part of the supposed Sunshine State.

Thanks to HarperCollins, I was fortunate enough to get my hands on an advance copy of Flood, a book that they put together in partnership with the ABC. It contains a foreword by Premier Anna Bligh, whose accomplished handling of the event and rousing speeches—not least the cheesy, but precisely what we needed tenet that ‘we’re the ones that they knock down and we get up again’—warmed our hearts, raised our spirits, and had many calling for her to be PM.

The books’ royalties go to the Premier’s Flood Appeal, making its purchase feel good as well as, frankly, kind of like a keepsake of an event that will be etched as strongly on this generation’s memories as the ’74 floods were on the previous ones’. But the real winner for me is the fact that the accounts within it are written by ABC journalists I’ve come to know and love.

I navigate my days by the likes of Richard Fidler and Spencer Howson, and their calmness and information-rich ABC Radio efforts steered me and many others through the floods (refreshingly absent of some of the hysteria and ratings grabs that gripped some of the commercial media). What we didn’t get from many of them was their personal accounts and reflections. This book, a few months and the need to communicate weather, tidal, and clean-up-volunteering information immediately removed, gives them that chance.

Most striking, though, are the images of flood-affected Queensland. My first-hand experiences were confined to Brisbane, and even then to the few streets around my home. Some friends of mine did some sightseeing and, while we were all discouraged from doing so, I also understand why they did.

I didn’t and couldn’t leave my home, so this is the first time I’ve seen some of these images. They’re incredible and almost inconceivable—even to someone who waded through water, shifted sludge by hand, and who still looks out her kitchen window the high-tide stain on her neighbours’ house. If there’s anything I’m learning, it’s that there’s no such thing as too many images of the floods.

I’m not sure whether it was because I was personally affected, having to sandbag my home and watch the floodwaters rise and swallow the first few feet of it for days, but I got a little teary leafing through this book. It brought back some of the memories and emotions that were so raw that week, but it also made my heart swell with pride at Queenslanders’ (indeed Australians’) no-nonsense pragmatism and stoicism.

But that’s not selling the book well, and I should note that some of the images made me chuckle—it seems you can throw a disaster at Australians, but you can’t wash away their sense of humour. This book reminded me of the floating walkway, the aptly named Drift restaurant, the little tug boat that saved the day.

It also reminded me that we (and I mean Brisbane, not Grantham or Toowoomba) got off relatively lightly, especially when you compare our flood to the recent earthquakes in Christchurch and earthquakes, tsunami, and near-nuclear disaster in Japan. Relatively light or otherwise, the 2011 floods will be etched on our collective consciousness for years to come, and Flood goes a long way to documenting and commemorating it. It’s one worth investing in to both capture the moment and to contribute to Queensland’s rebuilding process.

If You Guys Were Publishers, You’d Publish Books

So I watched The Social Network the other day, and there was a particular scene that grabbed my attention. In the scene, Mark Zuckerberg (the inventor of Facebook) tells a group of Harvard grads who are suing him: “If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you’d have invented Facebook.” It took me a moment to parse this zinger, and once I did I thought it might just be stupid. But a couple of items in the ebook news this week made me think of it again.

The first was Joe Konrath’s invented dialogue on his blog between an author and acquisitions editor. To spare you wading through the whole thing, the gist is this: digital avenues to publishing have made traditional publishers rip-off merchants who gouge authors to line their pockets. It plays into a deep vein of mythology in the aspiring author world – publishers are out to get authors, steal their work and change it, steal their profits and then dump them when they prove not to be profitable anymore. And to those authors, I say this: if you wanted to self-publish your book, you’d self-publish your damn book. To Joe Konrath’s credit, he has actually done this, and made a very decent living doing so. But a brief flick through the comments of his blog post are a sideshow of authors who agree with him, but haven’t actually found success by self-publishing their work – digitally or otherwise – all beating the same drum: the publisher is dead, long live the self-publisher.

The other bit of news that has been flittering around the blogosphere over the past week is that Amazon is setting up a script assessment arm. Essentially they’re creating a space for writers to critique each other, with the best scripts that float through the system being passed along to Warner Bros in an exclusive first-look deal. There’ll be cash prizes throughout to motivate writers, and any writer that does get their script successfully turned into a film is guaranteed $200,000 from Amazon. Many bloggers, understandably, are seeing this as the death knell for script assessment, and can easily see Amazon turning their vast infrastructure into doing the same thing for book manuscripts.

I can see the same thing happening. But I’m not as convinced that it’s going to work. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love it if it did. When Authonomy first started, I thought it was a fantastic idea. Get a community of writers together to assess each others’ writing, and the best will surely rise to the top, to then be skimmed off by enterprising publishers. But to the best of my knowledge, this hasn’t worked fantastically well for HarperCollins. And I don’t believe it will work fantastically well for Amazon either.

The thing about publishing books is that there is a massive proportion of people who read who also want to write. Massive. And here’s the other thing: most of them are bad. So while the theory behind getting writers to do their own filtering is enticing, the logic is flawed. You can’t ask bad writers to assess other bad writers and expect them to find gold. This is why the industry uses a pool of readers, editors, agents, publishers and even other writers to help filter out the bad from the good. All of these people are talented and have a stake in the outcome, and work very hard to maintain a standard of quality in published books. And readers still complain that too many bad books are published. And writers still complain that there are too many ‘gatekeepers’.

So, bring on the self-publishing revolution, I say. Let all would-be writers who cannot get noticed by an agent or publisher publish their own work. And let us see if it succeeds. Because I strongly suspect that if these writers and companies were publishers, they’d already be publishing books.

The Claudia Gray ‘Hourglass’ Giveaway Is Finally Here!

* Please make sure to read the post in its entirety so you know you’re following the rules.

Hey vampire-loving peeps!

Do you feel lucky????

To celebrate author Claudia Gray’s trip to Oz this month we’re giving away copies of her latest book. Whoohoo!

Thanks to the superheroes at HarperCollins, Boomerang Books is giving away not one, not two, not three, but FIVE copies of Hourglass, the third installment in Claudia Gray’s stellar vampire series Evernight. This series has been touted as THE next series to read for Twilight fans – except I don’t like Twilight and I LOVE the Evernight series. So you could say the Evernight series satisfies Twilight fans and non-Twilight fans alike!

[Even if you don’t like vampires yourself, maybe you have a bloodsucker in your family or friendship circle who would love to read Hourglass? They’ll love you forever. And ever].

The details:

Because I’m generally an evil person, I’m going to make you WORK for the giveaway.

So, in 25 words or less, FOR THE WIN…answer the following question in the comments section of this post:

“What’s the best OR worst thing about being immortal?”

I will be announcing the five gloriously fortunate winners in a separate post after the entries have been judged, but make sure to include a valid email address in your comment below so it’s easier to contact you if you win!

This competition is open to Australian residents only (ie. those who have a valid Australian postal mailing address).

Entries close:

Thursday, August 26 2010, 5 pm Australian Eastern Standard Time.

GOOD LUCK, EVERYONE 🙂 

*fangs crossed*

Let’s get those creative juices flowing!