Interview with T.S. Hawken, author of If Kisses Cured Cancer

Author T.S. Hawken

Tim Hawken is the West Australian author of New Adult novel If Kisses Cured Cancer published earlier this year. Thanks for joining us for an interview at Boomerang Books Tim.

Can you describe your book If Kisses Cured Cancer in one sentence?
A funny yet serious book about the importance of connecting with those around you (and not being afraid to go skinny dipping in the forest).

What inspired you to write If Kisses Cured Cancer?
It was a combination of a few things, but the big one was my wife being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. The process was obviously awful, but there were lots of strangely funny and golden moments sprinkled in that journey. I wanted to create a fiction book that reflected those ups and downs, and would do the subject justice yet not be depressing or overly fluffy.

If you could meet any writer who would it be and what would you want to know?
Neil Gaiman. The guy is amazing at every form of writing – short stories, novels, comics, TV. He’s unbelievably great and deliciously odd. I’ve read about his writing process and general approach to life, so would probably just prefer to chat about magic, telling the truth through lies, and working with Terry Pratchett.

Bedside table reading for T.S. Hawken

How do you organise your personal library?
You mean the pile of books that are precariously stacked on my bedside table? They’re generally organized by date of purchase. I do have a shelf of books I’ve read and loved in my office for reference as well. They’re loosely arranged by genre and then grouped by author.

What book is on your bedside table right now?
In no particular order, there’s: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, The Dalai Lama’s Cat by David Michie, The Barefoot Investor by Scott Pape, Fromelles and Pozieres by Peter FitzSimons, Lost Gods by Brom, The Great Stories of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle, Bound by Alan Baxter, The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler, and Primary Mathematics by Penelope Serow, Rosemary Callingham and Tracey Muir. My Kindle is also there, which has a few hundred titles stored in it too.

What was the last truly great book that you read?
I actually had to go to my Goodreads page as a refresher to make sure I wasn’t just putting the greatest book I’ve read on here (which by the way is Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, closely followed by the Harry Potter series, closely followed by True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey). The last book I gave a full 5 staggering stars to was Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Total genius.

What’s the best book you’ve read so far in 2018?
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Wow, what a book. It’s like a dark version of The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion and so, so much more satisfying. Massive recommend.

I agree with you about Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, I read it last month and adored it. What’s your secret reading pleasure?
Fantasy and sci-fi books. Shhhh. I love these genres so much I had to make a rule that every second book I read has to be something else. I feel like broadening your reading habits is a sure way of finding gold you might not otherwise have come across.

What’s next? What would you like to tell your readers?
Next is planning out a new story idea I have that will remain mum until it’s actually a reality. There will be another book next year but what that is, you’ll have to wait and see. To follow any news, sign up to my newsletter at You’ll also get some special content about If Kisses Cured Cancer you won’t find anywhere else.

Super (not so) Scary Halloween Reads

If you haven’t already consumed your friends or scared the pants off yourself after reading Romi’s recommended Halloween reads,  then whip out your witch’s hat and strap on your bat wings; here are a few more scary reads guaranteed to bring out the ghoul in your little monsters.

Scream! series by Jack Heath (Dimity’s perennial Halloween favourite)

This is a seriously spooky series of stories for middle grade readers. All types of whacky scary and wonderful; youngsters will devour these offbeat tales beginning with The Human Flytrap, progressing to The Spider Army, The Haunted Book and finally slithering to The Squid Slayer. This series gets better and better the more involved you get. Spine chilling tension focuses on a different member of a team of four young sleuths and erstwhile mystery magnets who live in the creepy town of Axe Falls, a place teeming with unusual, nightmarish realties and reoccurring reasons to scream, often.

Josh, his sister and their friends encounter weird creatures and endless dubious going-ons, which they have to battle violently against in order to survive.  This series promises un-put-downable excitement and thrills guaranteed to increase the heart rate of 8 – 14-year-olds. The first book will have you screaming well into the night! Highly recommended.

Scholastic July 2015

Continue reading Super (not so) Scary Halloween Reads

YA, NA and MG Fiction Defined With Recommendations

Most readers will be familiar with the genre of books referred to as YA, but what about NA and MG?

Young Adult (YA)Eleanor & Park
YA fiction generally contains novels written for readers aged in their teens, or more specifically between the ages of 13 and 20. The stories feature teenage protagonists and often explore themes of identity and coming-of-age. Having said that, YA novels can be from any genre, science fiction, contemporary, fantasy, romance, paranormal etc. Some popular YA novels include the Harry Potter series, Hunger Games series, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

Middle Grade (MG)
MG novels are generally written for readers aged between 8-12 years, with main characters less than 13 years of age. Themes can include: school, parents, relationship with siblings and friends, being good or misbehaving. Just like every genre, some MG books can have an underlying message (e.g. be kind to animals).

Some examples of popular MG novels include: Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney, Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.

New Adult (NA)A Court of Thorns and Roses
NA fiction is a relatively new genre in publishing, and in my opinion grew from the popularity of adult audiences reading and enjoying YA novels (Twilight and The Fault in Our Stars). The genre is situated between YA and adult fiction and protagonists are generally between 18-30 years of age. Themes include leaving home, starting university, choosing a career, sex and sexuality.

Some popular NA novels include: Slammed by Colleen Hoover (called CoHo by her fans), The Night Circus by Erin MorgensternA Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas and The Elephant Tree by R.D. Ronald.

On my TBR ListInheritance
I have a number of books on my to-be-read pile from the genres mentioned above, including: Inheritance by Christopher Paolini, Matilda by Roald Dahl, Reasons She Goes to the Woods by Deborah Kay Davies, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition by Jacob Grimm, The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes and 100 Cupboards by N. D. Wilson. What’s on your list?

Whether you enjoy MG, YA or NA fiction, the most important thing is that you don’t allow yourself to become pigeon-holed. Enjoy your reading, keep an open mind and explore new authors. You never know where your next favourite book might come from.

Review: Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

9780575097582I’d been meaning to get to this series all of 2014. After being totally amazed by both The Girl With All The Gifts and The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August I asked the person the Australian publisher who had recommended them both what I could checkout next. And this was the series they said. So having failed to get around to it in 2014 I thought I’d kick off with book one first up in 2015.

I think part of the reason I kept putting off the series was the quote from Diana Gabaldon that the series was like “if Harry Potter grew up and joined the Fuzz”. Not because I have anything against a Diana Gabaldon quote (I am loving Outlander, can’t wait for Part 2 of Season 1 and now know why early in my bookselling career so many people kept asking for the next book in the series!). The reason I think I delayed was because I already had my “Harry Potter for Grown Ups” obsession in 2014; The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman. So two in one year didn’t feel right. So again, new year, new obsession. And I am definitely obsessed with this series.

To sum the book up it is a British police procedural full of wicked humour and a big dollop of magic. Peter Grant is a freshly minted police constable in the London Metropolitan Police Service. He’s hoping against hope he gets assigned somewhere glamorous and not given a boring desk job. When he attends a brutal murder scene and takes a witness statement from what turns out to be a ghost his concerns about a boring assignment are completely forgotten. Instead Peter is introduced to London’s underworld. No, not the underworld of gangs, drugs and crime but the underworld of wizards, vampires, nymphs and river gods. And things are not on the up and up in this under world. On top of territory disputes there are other tensions bubbling to the surface. Tensions that threaten to burst onto the streets of London in a full-scale riot. Peter must navigate through his new circumstances learning not only the craft of magic but careful diplomacy at the same time as tracking down a spirit which appears to be at the heart of all the violence and trouble that is slowly flooding the streets.

I am well hooked on this series and cannot wait to get into the rest of the books. The humour is that pitch perfect British variety that combines the sardonic with surreal in perfect balance and the blend of London history, real and magical makes for truly entertaining reading.

Buy the book here…

Review – The Magicians by Lev Grossman

9780099534440I have been meaning to get round to this book for a while (thanks mainly to the Bookrageous podcast) and with the final book in the trilogy due out in August I thought it was about time I got started. My first impression of the book was that this was Harry Potter for adults. Instead of a 12-year-old boy going off to school to learn magic and wizardry this is about a 17-year-old boy going off the college, in upstate New York, to learn magic and become a magician.

There are some similarities with Hogwarts, the Harry Potter novels and other fantasy classics like The Chronicles of Narnia but Lev Grossman acknowledges all these sources in clever and often humorous ways so you never get a sense of them being ripped off in any way. Grossman has also constructed his own unique and vivid world(s) so you know you are definitely in a different type of story.

One of the other big differences is the main character, Quentin Coldwater. He is not your like-at-all-costs hero. He is a flawed character which isn’t apparent at first but manifests itself as the book goes on. He is struggling to find himself and has an almost superiority complex which is only fed more by learning to become a magician. Grossman packs all of the years of magic college into the first half of the book. This is not one book for every year of college and it is college life warts and all (pardon the pun). And when Quentin and the friends he makes finish college they don’t set out on a big adventure or quest but instead waste their new-found knowledge and skills on drinking, drugs and sex. (This strand of the story reminded me a bit of The Secret History by Donna Tartt.)

The major difference though is the tone of Grossman’s novel. Often books of this type have a sense of earnestness. The heroes of the story are the chosen ones with a strong sense of their purpose and what is right. Grossman flips this on its head. Instead of earnestness there is a layer of cynicism and the characters purposefulness alludes them (for different reasons each).  Instead a sense of entitlement clouds their judgements, destabilizes their relationships with each other and ultimately leads to tragic consequences.

While this does make everything sound dark and broody everything is tempered with an epic, adventurous narrative that moves along at an addictive pace. It was refreshing to have a main character who was not perfect, was guilty at times of being selfish and struggling to find his own identity. I also really enjoyed the way other worlds weren’t the escape people hoped them to be, especially if what you are trying to escape is yourself.

I can’t wait to see where Grossman takes the story next.

Buy the book here…

Back to Azkaban

Prisoner of AzkabanHarry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — I read it quite a number of years ago. So it’s been really interesting revisiting it, along with the other books in the series. But this time I also got to see it through the eyes of my ten-year-old daughter.

Last year, I started to read the Harry Potter books to my then nine-year-old daughter, Nykita (see: “Revisiting Harry” & “Opening the Chamber of Secrets… again”). She loved them, but didn’t want to go on to the third book, as she was worried that it might be a little too scary. So we decided to wait a while. But last month, after re-reading the first two books herself, she declared that she was ready for me to read the third book to her.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is an interesting book. The titular prisoner is Sirius Black, Harry’s godfather and the man who supposedly betrayed Harry’s parents to the dark wizard Voldemort.

This is the book where things start edge towards darkness, focussing a little bit more on the actual circumstances of the murder of Harry’s parents. It is also noteworthy as the only book in the series in which Voldemort doesn’t make an appearance.

The book holds together extremely well. It is, I think, the best of the first three. It is longer than the first two, but not so long as to be meandering and unwieldy. It is still a reasonably tight story, with a good balance of plot, character development and set-up for future books. I have a slight problem with the time travel stuff at the end, but I think that time travel is a problematic plot device at the best of times. In terms of the Harry Potter universe, after reading this book, one can’t help but wonder why time travel isn’t utilised again to solve future problems. Why? Because it is merely a plot device that is conveniently ignored thereafter by the author. But if you can overlook that, the book is an excellent read.

What I enjoyed most about reading this book to Nykita, were her reactions. They seemed more intense with this book. There were moments when she was literally bouncing up and down with excitement as I read. Or laughing uncontrollably. And towards the end, when Sirius Black had been revealed, she was huddled in bed, blanket over her head with just her eyes peeking out. The power of the written word. Pure magic!

As with the first two books, we followed up the reading with a viewing of the film. It is without a doubt, my least favourite of the films. This film has quite a different look and feel to the first two (probably due to a change of director), which I like — it results in a visually more striking film. But it doesn’t quite hang together for me in other ways. The pacing seems wrong. Some of the scenes struck me as a little forced. And it’s the first film after the death of Richard Harris, with Michael Gambon taking over the role of Dumbledore — and while he certainly settles into the role over the next few films, making the part truly his own, this first outing lacks the subtlety of Harris’s performance.

Now we’ve gone straight into Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Yes, she thinks it might be too scary… but she simply can’t bear to wait!

Catch ya later,  George

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Opening the Chamber of Secrets… again

In May I wrote about reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to my eldest daughter, Nykita, aged nine (see “Revisiting Harry”). She was so excited by the book that we immediately moved on to the next one, which we polished off rather quickly. It’s taken me a while, but I’ve finally gotten around to writing about the experience.

I am pleased to report that Nykita loved Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secret as much as, if not more than, the first book. She found the ghost of Moaning Myrtle, and her tendency to dive into toilets, particularly amusing. But she also found this book to be a little scarier than the first — especially the encounter with Aragog and the giant spiders in the Forbidden Forest. She also seemed a little distressed that his fellow students were so quick to turn on Harry and believe him to be the Heir of Slytherin.

As with the previous book, we followed it up by watching the film. Again, Nykita liked the film but preferred the book, although she thought the spider scene was more frightening in the film.

With book two done and dusted, you’d think that we would move straight on to book three. Not so. Nykita seemed rather torn — on the one hand she was eager for more Harry Potter; but on the other hand, she was worried that Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban might be even scarier, and she thought that The Chamber of Secrets was scary enough. In the end, we decided that we would wait a while and read book three over the Christmas holidays, when she would be a little older and more capable of handling a scarier book. 🙂

And my opinion? What do I think now, after all these years, revisiting both book and film in close proximity?

I think Chamber of Secrets is a better book than The Philosopher’s Stone. It has all the charm and wit of the first book, but not as many lapses in logic. The only one that really stands out is the basilisk using the Hogwarts plumbing to make its way around the school. All I can say is that, given the enormity of the basilisk, Hogwarts must have some pretty bloody BIG pipes running through its walls. As for the actual plot, it is more intriguing than the first — the idea that Voldemort preserved a teenage version of himself (then called Tom Riddle) in his school diary. It’s a clever way of having a different villain, who is also the same villain. And, of course, it’s all followed through in later books when the diary is revealed as one of the seven Horcruxes into which Voldemort placed his split-apart soul.

As for the film, I think it’s better than the first. The young actors have all settled into their roles and the story flows along much better — it feels more cohesive than the first. It’s interesting to note the changes that the filmmakers have made from the book. Nothing too big. Most of those changes have been to condense the plot or to make things more visually exciting or funny. But there are some subtle differences in characters, such as Dudley not being quite a horrid as he is in the book. The biggest omission is the plotline about Argus Filch being a Squib (a non-magic person born into a wizarding family). A pity, as this adds to his character, going a long way towards explaining his constant bitterness.

So now I’m waiting — very impatiently, I might add — for the Christmas holidays so I can read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban to Nykita and then watch the film with her.

Catch ya later,  George

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A chaste book with the naughty bits avoided or omitted …

Fifty Shades of GreyI’m pretty much standing alone among writers in saying that the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon is a good thing. The general stance is that it’s poorly written commercial drivel leading the reading (and non-reading) masses astray. Me? I think the issues and opportunities are—please excuse the pun—a little more grey.

First and foremost, there’s an element of ‘why her and not me?’ in some writers’ chagrin. Nobody likes a whinger. It’s admittedly got to bite a bit when E.L. James’ writing’s so guffaw-inducing bad (my friend and fellow editor Judi makes me giggle regularly by quoting the bit about Ana’s very own ‘Christian-flavoured popsicle’). It’s got to bite a bit more when you’ve been slaving away for years at your own writing with limited success.

But it ignores the fact that there’s a lot going for Fifty Shades, not least that its success has opened others’ doors. I’ve personally been offered a number of chances to review ‘the next’ Fifty Shades book and to interview its author. Ergo, opportunities for me and opportunities for erotic fiction authors who, it should be noted, were until recently low on the (little-discussed) writing hierarchy—they’re like romance writers but considered more snicker-worthy.

Surely those writers should be grateful that James’ trilogy has ratcheted up the chance of erotic fiction writers for obtaining publishing contracts and has driven eyes and sales to the genre? And beyond the genre, for that matter—James’ own husband has scored a book deal for his crime thriller (I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t considered trying to find and marry an up-and-coming writer who might be able to piggyback me across the bestselling line).

Mr James’ book is apparently in no way connected to Fifty Shades, but who are we kidding? Everyone’s going to be scouring the pages for hints of his and Mrs James’ sex life (and if I were him I wouldn’t care—a book sale’s a book sale and he might even gain some readers who otherwise didn’t know they enjoyed thrillers).

The Da Vinci CodeBecause for all the ‘it’s so badly written’ grumbling, Fifty Shades has done for erotica what Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight and JK Rowling’s Harry Potter have done for their respective genres before—they’ve got people reading and they’ve got people talking about reading.

Whether readers and critics realise it or not (and it’s the ‘or not’ that’s arguably key in the same way that parents try to ensure that kids don’t realise they’re eating green vegies), Fifty Shades has got everyone analysing the work. And then it’s set them off in search of more (hopefully better) reading material to fill the obsessive, book-devouring void.

It’s also provided a much-needed cash injection into a flailing publishing industry, inspired people to buy ebooks so as not to give their dirty reading secret away courtesy of a visible physical book cover, and lobbed previously published and soon-to-be published erotica to the fore. As far as I’m concerned, it’s win–win.

The ‘what about me?’ criticisms also dismiss the fact that Fifty Shades taps into an epic love story. Badly written as it is (as was Twilight before it), there’s something utterly irresistible about it. Self-respecting feminist I may be, even I got caught up in the fairytale-like element of a wealthy, gorgeous, troubled-but-not-without-redemption knight in shining armour sweeping her off her feet (please spare me the hate mail about how the book sets us back centuries—I know it’s imperfect).

Something else has intrigued more than all the ‘it’s rubbish’ furore, both because it’s something I was vaguely thinking about and because it was articulated much better by an author I’m not sure I am a fan of. Jodi Picoult (AKA a reasonably divisive and commercially driven, commercially successful author herself) said that James is unfairly profiting from another author’s tale and characters.

TwilightPicoult kind of has a point, although truthfully, I’m not sure where I stand on the issue. Fifty Shades was explicitly created as Twilight fan fiction, ergo it seems to be fine to use the characters. But fan fiction as a whole is collaborative and something from which people don’t often profit—James’ breakout success is blurring and redefining this, potentially towards a less-open, more-greedy dynamic.

It’s tricky to know where Meyer stands on this issue too. Yes, they’re her characters, but one could convincingly argue that they’re not uniquely hers at all—they’re poorly wrought versions derived from archetypes. What is known is that she’s stayed fairly quiet on the whole issue.

On a pragmatic level, given her devout Mormon faith it’s unlikely (read: about as likely as you or me finding a real-life Christian Grey to call our own) that she’d have written a Fifty Shades or equivalent herself. In fact, you could say Fifty Shades emerged precisely because Meyer didn’t and wouldn’t give us the highly anticipated sex.

What I want to know is whether Meyer has read Fifty Shades. Because that’s the amusing part, isn’t it? A chaste book with the naughty bits avoided, omitted, or only committed in line with strict religious beliefs (AKA sex only after marriage) inspires a best-selling book that’s decidedly unchaste and that breaks all the religious rules …

Revisiting Harry

You may remember me blogging about the Harry Potter books and telling you how I read them all out loud to my wife (see “Life after Harry, part 1”). Ever since then, I have looked forward to the day I could share these books with my daughters. And now that time has come… at least for Daughter #1.

Nykita is now nine years old. Despite repeated offers to read her the books over the last couple of years, she has been rather disinterested. Things changed when her class started to read the first book during fruit breaks at school. Suddenly she was interested. But they were going too slowly, with a half chapter a day, at most — often reading as little as a page or two, and sometimes nothing at all because things got too busy. Suddenly, the prospect of me reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to her didn’t seem like such a bad idea.

And so I read her the book. She was so interested and so excited by it that we ended up flying through it in just over a week. “I didn’t think it would be my kind of book,” she told me one evening. “But I was wrong. It’s great!”

They are still only about a quarter of the way through in her class. But she’s enjoying it all over again.

Having finished that first book, we followed it up with the film. Verdict: “It was okay.” It seems that she preferred the book. In fact, she enjoyed it so much that she is now re-reading it herself.

Reading it again after all these years has been an interesting experience for me. I had forgotten just how much I enjoyed it — the characters, the concepts, the world and the plot, which is very much a set-up for the epic events to follow. But the flaws also stood out. The rather unbalanced deduction of house points for instance, with more points being taken off for a nocturnal wander than for an attempt to confront a troll (the latter putting lives in danger). And then there is that rather ridiculous detention where students are sent out into the Forbidden Forest with Hagrid on a dangerous mission — a rather irresponsible thing to do to the students, especially since it was established earlier that the forest was strictly off limits to students. And then to make matters worse, in the middle of the dangerous environment, Hagrid makes them split up. It is completely out of character for Hagrid to put the students into such enormous danger.

But this was JK’s first novel, and given how good the rest of it is, I’m will to cut her a little slack on these points. 🙂

It was also interesting to watch the film version immediately upon finishing the book. This proximity highlights the film’s weaknesses — the nuances it leaves out and how poorly it depicts the passage of time. But then the film also adds many interesting visual elements — the delivery of Harry’s initial letters at the Dursley’s by owls; the way Voldemort passes through Harry in the climactic moments. These things, dare I say, actually improve on the original source material. And this film is also so perfectly cast — not just the main characters, but the minor ones like Argus Filch.

Nykita and I have now begun Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I’ll report back when we’ve finished.

Catch ya later,  George

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JK Rowling and the great Pottermore scandal

For around the 475th time this decade, I’m angry on behalf of independent booksellers.

This time, it’s with JK Rowling, who in signing affiliate agreements with Sony, Barnes & Noble and Amazon for the sale of the Harry Potter digital editions has supported the giants but locked out the indies who have hand-sold her books to millions of children all over the world.

Last week, on Tuesday, Rowling finally made the Harry Potter series available as ebooks via her Pottermore website, The Potter stories had been conspicuously absent from ereading devices and ebookstores over the past two years as Rowling pondered and negotiated a digital way forward for the books – she had retained digital rights when signing contracts with her publishers and wanted to get the model just right.

I have no problem with her subsequent decision to sell direct to readers, ensuring that as the author, she will rake in most of the profits.

As a huge Potter fan, I can’t wait to experience the full Pottermore site once it launches in the next couple of weeks. Digital Quidditch, anyone? I’ll also be buying the entire series as ePubs and reading them all over again, and can’t wait till my toddler is old enough to read them himself.

On a positive note, Rowling has signed partnership agreements with key publishers of the print editions, like Scholastic and Bloomsbury, to provide them with an undisclosed share of ebook sales via Pottermore, which seems only fair, given the vast resources they have devoted over the years to editing the books and marketing the Potter brand as well as Rowling herself.

My problem is with the great author’s decision to allow only Sony, Amazon and Barnes & Noble to sign affiliate deals for the ebooks. This means the three retail giants (intriguingly, neither Apple nor Google has got a look in) can direct their readers via website links to Pottermore in exchange for a cut.

Indie booksellers who have hosted Potter events with schools and libraries as each of title hit the shelves, who have made their staff dress up as Ron, Hermione, Harry and Dumbledore and open the store early, or stay back late, and held competitions for the best Potter costume among their junior customers, have been shut out all together. They’ve filled window displays with Potterabilia, and held tie-in events with the film adaptation, but when it comes to digital, it was all for nought.

Rowling must provide indies with the same opportunities to promote her titles to their customers as Sony, Barnes & Noble and Amazon. She owes it to them, as a mark of gratitude for the years they have spent selling Harry Potter to bookshop lovers, helping to make her the success she is today.

Indies here in Australia and all over the world are making the transition to digital. Dozens of stores here have opened ebookstores during the past 18 months. Rowling shutting them out will impact on their brands in this fledgling market, as well as on their bottom lines, indeed their futures.

Come on, JK, give your greatest supporters the respect and the opportunities they deserve. Open your affiliate program to the indies today – and at the very least before Pottermore’s big launch.

Waiting for the end of the series

I’ve always had this philosophy regarding any series of books — I would never start to read the first book until the final one had been published. That way, I would not have to wait the twelve plus months between books — the twelve plus months during which I would forget vital plot points and character nuances. Instead, I could just read one book after another, from beginning to end, and achieve a sense of continuity and completion. But things have changed.

I’m a reasonably patient sort of person. I usually don’t mind waiting, even if it is several years between book one and the final instalment, before starting to read a series. This is the way that I have read many a trilogy. The first time that I broke my own rule was with the Harry Potter series. Seven books resulted in a very long wait between beginning and end. There was a lot of hype and a lot of discussion. I really wanted to read the books; I really wanted to participate in the discussions my friends were having; and I was finding it very difficult to avoid spoilers. So I started reading just after the fourth book was released. I read them back-to-back. Of course, then came the agonising wait for book five… I didn’t like that bit.

But Harry Potter was an exceptional series — so much hype and talk and media. Most books don’t get that kind of press. Spoilers are not usually an issue. So, Harry was going to be my one and only exception (except, of course, those occasional circumstances where I’ve read a book not realising that it was the first in a series… damn, that’s annoying!). But then I started reviewing books.

Becoming a reviewer changed everything. I was no longer browsing bookstores, reading the back cover blurbs, trying to choose what to read next. Now I was browsing lists of upcoming and newly released titles trying to decide which books I should request for review. And those lists are always chock-full of books that are part of a series. And thus I found myself in the position of reading the first book of the Rosie Black Chronicles a few weeks after its release in 2010, instead of waiting. Book two is soon to be released (keep an eye on this blog, I’ll soon be interviewing the author, Lara Morgan), and goodness knows when book three will be out.

Reviewing has also hampered my ability to ever read a series from beginning to end in one hit. I read the first book of Trudi Canavan’s Black Magician trilogy in October 2010. I didn’t get to book two until March 2011, and I’ve only just started book three. Why? I’ve got a stack of new review books I’ve agreed to read — so I space out the other books I want to read, between these.

A number of years ago I heard about a series of books called The Laws of Magic, written by Michael Pryor. I read the back cover blurb of the first book, thought it sounded interesting, and placed it on my read-when-the-series-is-finished pile. Well, the final book came out this year. I dug out the first book and read it. I’d love to now read the rest of the series, one after the other. But no… I’ve had to put then aside for the moment. Sigh! Life can be so tough sometimes. 😉

Catch ya later,  George

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Nothing Says Hooray Like Harry Potter

Harry PotterNothing says ‘hooray for getting in a draft of a really difficult project and giving yourself a couple of hours off from deadlines as far as the eye can see’ as going to see the breathlessly anticipated Harry Potter finale.

This is precisely the moment I need to issue an apology to those people—who read this blog and who will currently be cursing me via their screens—whom I’d promised I’d wait to see it with. I didn’t do it deliberately, honest.

I know you don’t accidentally fall into a movie theatre so ‘I didn’t do it deliberately’ might be stretching the truth. I was just so fatigued after submitting the millionth draft of a particularly long-running, particularly detailed project, and so dreading the next two that will kick off and be due tomorrow alone that I realised I had the choice between succumbing to a massive migraine or doing something to distract my brain for just under three hours.

Unsurprisingly I chose the latter.

Sorry guys. You should maybe stop reading here lest I spoil the film for you. For what it’s worth: I’m happy to go again. And I should probably shout you your tickets in a gesture of I’mreallysorryitwon’thappenagain goodwill.

So my verdict on the film of the doorstop of the final book that I raced through and yet never wanted to end? It was everything I could have hoped for. It was, in short, absolutely epic.

I say that, though, as someone who hasn’t read the book since it came out. I was caught by surprise at the beginning of the penultimate film. I was like: WTF?! Dumbledore is dead?!

I then realised both that I’d missed a film (and writing this I’ve realised that I still haven’t seen it) and that my memory was a little sketchy. Then I settled in to enjoy the film as if I were encountering everything for the first time.

Ditto for my experience tonight, although I was less WTF?! Dumbledore is dead?! and more how many of those horcrux thingys are there left? And what are they hidden in anyway?

Sounds dumb, I know, but it was actually brilliant. It meant that I was as in awe of the film as I was when I read the book, and I chuckled inwardly (and occasionally outwardly) at JK Rowling’s ability to insert plot twists none of us could ever predict. Especially those that explain or refer to key moments or mysteries carefully laid out, breadcrumb-style, in previous books.

It must be said that I was also in awe of the film’s scriptwriter, director, and cinematographer, who plucked out the book’s core and brought it to life with a light touch. It would have been easy to make this, the ultimate film, Sop Central. Instead, it was dark when it needed to be, but better still, heroic, heart-warming, fast-paced, and funny.

I actually had goosebumps when Professor McGonagall stepped up to defend Harry and then Hogwarts. Likewise when the statues came to life and marched down to guard the borders. And yes, I’ll admit I cried a bit too. Although not, it should be noted, as much as I thought I would.

The gaping ‘what now’ feeling I have now that’s identical to the one I had after finishing the Twilight and Vampire Academy series has one upside: with those two there either weren’t films or weren’t a complete set of films to revisit. The only thing left for me to do is to re-read the books I’ve clearly (see previous paras re: WTF?! Dumbledore is dead?!) forgotten.

It’s finally over

Over the weekend I went to see the final Harry Potter movie. The post-film discussions with family and friends made me think I should blog about it. I know I’ve blogged about the end of Harry Potter before, and at the risk of over-Pottering my readers, I’m doing it again anyway. 🙂

Firstly, let me say that I loved the final film and I can’t wait to watch it again. But I’m not adverse to discussing it’s cons as well as its pros.

There seem to be two major criticisms levelled at, not just this film, but the film series as a whole. #1: That they leave out too much, resulting in a product that is inferior to the books. #2: That if you haven’t read the books, you won’t properly understand the films.

Okay, let’s face it folks, I don’t think it’s possible to adapt a large book and get all the nuances into the film. And the Harry Potter books have gotten longer with each subsequent instalment, making it harder and harder for the film-makers. I am very relieved that they decided to make the final enormous book into two films rather than one. Imagine how much more they would have needed to leave out if it was just one film!

The film version of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows focuses primarily on the relationship between Harry, Ron and Hermione, and the more visual aspects of the story, such as the retrieval and destruction of the horcruxes (magical objects in which Voldemort hid parts of his life-force) and the final battle. A LOT of backstory is left out — particularly in regard to Dumbledore’s younger days. Much as I was sorry to not have that in the film, in the end, it did not seriously impact on the main thrust of the plot.

The film that annoyed me the most with regards to what it left out was Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Despite retaining the title of the book, the film left out most of the half-blood prince backstory. The film that I felt did best with what it left out was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix — mostly because is was a very long-winded, waffly book full of stuff that didn’t really impact on the story.

Film is a very different medium from the novel. The key point to remember is that novels are adapted for film. Look it up in the dictionary. To adapt: to change to meet requirements. And film has different requirements to a novel.

Now, as for #2. Yes, I think this is, to a certain extent, a valid criticism. With this last film, for instance, if you haven’t read the books, you would be forgiven for thinking that Snape was actually Harry’s father. He isn’t… but the film version makes it look like he might be. It’s only if you’ve read the book that you’d know this isn’t the case. And there are similar instances with the previous films.

The Harry Potter films are unique in film history for the fact that they appear to be made for the fans of the books rather than for the general public. Perhaps because so many of the ‘gen pub’ have read them? I’ve discussed the films with several people who have not read the books, and in each case there were elements of the films that they found unclear or misleading.

So is it sloppy adaptation? Or does the widespread reading of the books justify this approach? On a personal level it doesn’t bother me — I’ve read the books and I’m happy with the films assuming that I have. If making the assumption that the audience already knows certain things, results in the films being able to include more plot and character development rather than exposition, I’m okay with that. And maybe, just maybe, those who are a little confused by certain points might be inspired to go off and read the books.

What do you think? Should the films have been made more accessible to people who haven’t read the books? Leave a comment.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… or I might start practising the Cruciatus Curse.


Life after Harry, part 2

Last post I blogged about the Harry Potter books. Today, I move on to the films.

The film version of the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was released in 2001, in the long drought between the publication of the fourth and fifth books. I don’t think I have ever been as excited about a film release as I was about that one. My wife and I even dressed up in wizarding robes when we went to see it. (Don’t worry, we weren’t the only ones. It was a special charity screening where people were encouraged to show up in costume.)

My overall impression of the films, is that they are a damn good adaptation of the books. Yes, some are better than others, but that’s the case with the books as well. My only regret with having seen the films, is that my visualisation of the world and its characters has been over-written by the films. Try as I might, I now can’t picture Harry as anyone other than Daniel Radcliffe, or Hagrid as anyone other than Robbie Coltrane. And I am sad that I have lost my initial impressions of those characters. It’s for this reason that I am doing my best to keep my daughters from seeing the films until they are old enough to first read the books. Fingers crossed on that one.

Anyway… back to the individual films.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was a good start. It was the shortest of the books, so was probably easier to adapt than its successors. It was not a brilliant film and the performances of the kids, while good, were not particularly outstanding. What was brilliant, was the casting of kids who really fit the roles… so it didn’t matter if their acting occasionally came across as inexperienced.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was a better film. The actors had settled into their roles and the director, Chris Columbus, created a more cohesive film.

And then Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban changed things. The new director, Alfonso Cuarón, raised the bar in terms of visual style, and the actors really began to hit their stride. And yet, for me, this was the weakest of the films. It lacked energy and just didn’t quite gel.

Another new director, Mike Newell, took the helm with film #4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was my favourite of the books, so I was particularly looking forward to this film. And I wasn’t disappointed. It still stands as my favourite of the films. My only disappointment was that you didn’t get to know and like Cedric as much as you did in the books, so his death was not as impactful.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, now with David Yates as director, was perhaps the most successful of the adaptations. As the waffliest of the books, they were able to cut out a lot without actually losing much plot. It was also noteworthy for its superb casting of Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was not as successful an adaptation. Some rather odd decisions as to which plot points to leave out resulted in a film that retained the Half-Blood Prince title, yet purged the majority of that storyline. It felt a little unsatisfying.

Thankfully the film-makers decided to turn Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows into two films. (insert huge sigh of relief) It would not have been possible to do justice to the story in a single film… there simply would not have been enough time to include all the major events. So, although leaving the story half-finished at the end of the first film, and having to wait all this time for the conclusion, has been frustrating… I’ve been able to live with it. 🙂

Now, I am counting down the days until the release of HP7.2, as it has become known. But what will I do once it’s all over? I fear that the whole Harry Potter experience will be a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I cannot recall a set of books ever having this much worldwide impact. And I cannot recall a set of books having had this special a place in my heart. There are other books I love just as much, and there are other books that I think are better books — but no other set of books has generated the excitement that Harry Potter has; no other set of books has taken up as much of my life as Harry Potter. And yes, I know I can re-read the books and re-watch the films… but it’s not the same. No more NEW Harry Potter! So…

Farewell Harry Potter. (No, I’m not crying. Really, I’m not!) I shall miss you. I shall miss you and all your friends, rivals and enemies. But I look forward to one day introducing you to my kids.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… or I shall release the Mandrakes.


Life after Harry, part 1

The final Harry Potter film is due out in a little over a month. I am positively quaking with antici… pation. I have been looking forward to it since the closing credits rolled on my first viewing of 7.1. But once it’s over, what will I do? No more new Harry Potter! How will I cope with life after Harry?

It’s been four years since the release of the final Harry Potter book, so the anticipation of each new film is what has been sustaining me. But now, that too will soon be over. It may seem a little melodramatic to those who are not Potter fans. But it’s a big deal to me. Harry has been part of my life for quite a number of years.

Somehow, Harry Potter became a worldwide phenomenon. Somehow, a series of children’s books captured a reader audience way beyond its target market. The books were even re-published with grown-up covers so that adults didn’t have to feel embarrassed about reading them on their train journeys to work. The world went Potter-mad!

I was a little late jumping onto this particular bandwagon (although I’ve never felt the need for a grown-up cover). I didn’t start reading book 1 until book 4 had been released. It was the insistence of friends that finally convinced me and my wife, Kerri, to read them. With book 4 having been released, books 1 to 3 were on special at our local bookshop, so it seemed like a good time to take the plunge.

I wanted to read it first. But I’m a much slower reader than Kerri, so she insisted she should get first dibs. We argued! Then we decided to read it together — out loud, each reading alternating chapters. By the halfway point of the book, I was doing all the reading and she was doing all the listening. We discovered that Kerri enjoyed being read to, and I liked the sound of my own voice. A win/win situation.

Needless to say, we both loved Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Looking at it critically, the book certainly has flaws, but the overall feel made us happy to overlook those occasional lapses in logic. Rowling had created a fascinating world and peopled it with a wondrous array of characters — characters that we desperately wanted to read more about. Her style was easy to read, but witty and insightful. We had quite a few late nights because we found the book difficult to put down. (This was before we had kids, so we were able to do crazy things like stay up all night reading. 🙂 )

We immediately moved on to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — each better than the previous. The moment we were finished with these, we rushed out and bought Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Our reading experience with book 4 was a little different. We were about half way through when we left for our annual road trip from Melbourne to Adelaide. The friends we were staying with had already read book 4, and not wanting to have any details spoiled, we wanted to finish the book before getting there. So Kerri drove most of the way, while I read.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is my favourite of the books. The thing I remember most is being utterly shocked at the death of Cedric Diggery. I remember struggling on with the reading as I was getting all choked up and teary. This moment goes down as one of my all-time reading highlights.

It was then a rather long wait until Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. This was the only one of the books to have disappointed me, mostly because it took way too long for anything to happen. The comparison to the previous book didn’t help. And the long wait we had endured, added to the disappointment. It struck me that it would have been a much better book if it were given a darn good edit.

Not quite as long a wait for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. It was a huge relief reading this book, as we had feared the previous instalment may have been the beginning of a downward spiral. But thankfully not. Rowling was back on form with this one.

And then came Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The book I never wanted to end… because I knew it was the last. But it was a fitting end. There were heroics aplenty and many deaths; excitement and thrills; laughter and tears — and a definite conclusion. It really was the end.

Oh yes, there were those other little books along the way  — Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them in 2001 — and The Tales of Beedle the Bard would come along after the last novel. But they really didn’t do it for me. They were merely diversionary strolls. The main journey was over.

Except, of course, for the films. Tune in next time for my thoughts about them.

Catch ya later,  George

PS Follow me on Twiiter… or I’ll stupefy you.


Ebook News Christmas Wrap-up

So the silly season has come and gone, bringing with it what is most likely the biggest shift in consumer behaviour in regards to ebooks that has ever occurred. As I’ve been saying for the past six months – the future isn’t just coming sometime soon, it’s already here. Here’s a wrap-up of the ebook news over the past couple of weeks that you might find useful.

As predicted, Amazon made great strides this Christmas into the ebook space. They announced that the Kindle is now their best-selling product of all time. This means it has outsold the final Harry Potter book, so we are talking millions of Kindles out there over the Christmas period. And due to the instantaneous nature of ebook purchasing, we’re quite likely to see a spike in ebook sales over the few days of the Christmas period – though we’ll likely have to wait a while before anyone releases those figures. Guestimates so far have pegged the number of books sold as close to 3 million, which is damned impressive.

A poll has shown that almost a third of internet users say they already have a Kindle or plan on buying one in the next year, and that 40% of iPad owners already have a Kindle or are planning to buy one – which seems to support the assertions of Jeff Bezos (Amazon’s CEO) that the Kindle and the iPad are not in direct competition.

All in all this has been a superb holiday period for Amazon’s Kindle – all the more reason to hope they don’t do anything (else) evil in 2011.

Google has hinted at a timetable for the Australian launch of the Google eBookstore initiative, indicating they may launch early this year.

The Borders/Kobo tagteam appears to be coming apart at the seams – at least one major publisher in the US has halted shipments to the embattled chain and Hachette are considering doing the same. This is bad news for Kobo, which has tied itself quite closely to Borders in the US and here in Australia (Australia’s REDgroup – which includes Angus & Robertson and Borders – has been considering cuts and facing disappointing sales for months).

Choice magazine has named the Sony Touch the best ereading device, which is good news for the ereader (and for the potential fortunes of other independent ereading devices that aren’t chained to a single retailer).

Forecasts are showing that tablet sales will more than double this year in the US, which is great news for Apple and the iPad, which will likely snap up a big chunk of that.

2011 is shaping up to be the biggest year yet for digital reading. Thanks for reading in 2010, and I look forward to your comments and support if you decide to stick around this year. If there’s anything you’d like to see covered or analysed in more detail – let loose in the comments or get in touch on Twitter.

We Want YOU… to Study a Bachelor of Wizardry (Yes, Really.)

Picture this: little Aimee B., fresh out of highschool, first year at Newcastle University (great uni, by the way).

I was enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts degree wondering what on Earth I was good for. I couldn’t pick a major just yet, so I chose from the Liberal Arts faculty of subjects the way I would a box of chocolates – one of each flavour. Partway through my Politics 101 subject I realised it just wasn’t for me, and began to agonise in advance over the slim pickings available in Semester Two. I’d already argued the existence of God and nature versus nurture in ‘Philosophy’; watched movie greats such as The Seventh Seal in ‘Film Studies’; yawned through ‘Rome to the Gracchi’; and compared Kate Bush’s wonderful warblings on tape to Bronte’s classic Wuthering Heights in ‘The Romantic Age’.

I felt as if my degree had nothing further to offer me…I was well and truly lost.
And I hadn’t realised I had been agonising out loud about the decisions for next semester when a girl in my ‘Myth and Antiquity in Ancient Greece’ class turned to me and drawled : “You DO know you can study witchcraft in third year, don’t you?”

My head went into a spin of ruby red-shoes and tornado-spun houses landing on shapely green legs…I cackled into the air and felt that I needn’t worry about my future anymore – my path was clear.

But the dreams of youth are often lost into the ether…by the end of the year, I had moved to Canberra to study something MUCH more interesting and not boring at all: Law (har-har), but I have often had a Sliding Doors moment where I wonder “what if?”

Chances are that the course would have been a relatively mild look at the Salem witchcraft trials…but there’s always that possibility that I would’ve learned a totally rad spell or two. Maybe even take over the world. So when I see this article, I almost scream in delight. Turns out Durham University in the UK is giving me a second chance at world domination.

The study of the Harry Potter story is nothing new, of course. Colleges in the U.S.A. have been offering seminars for years, and not just in literary areas. Young American politicians may already be debating the advantages of Voldemort’s political party in a hung parliament scenario, or Sciencemongers dissecting unicorns in Biology could be on the cliff-edge of a cure for some currently incurable disease.

At Swarthmore, “Battling Against Voldemort” remains one of the most popular freshman seminars, and a lottery determines who gets one of the 12 seats.

[Do they pull names out of a Sorting Hat, I wonder?]

Yet never before has a course been so incredibly specific to Harry Potter, offering such syllabus points as:

*Welcome to Hogwarts: the commodification of education. The sign replaces the thing – a reassuring world of uniforms, gowns and rituals;
*Muggles and magic: the escape from the treadmill and the recovery of enchantment, and;
*‘My station and its duties’: Harry Potter and the good citizen.

Wowww. I am starry-eyed, to say the least. And I’ve always been a Ravenclaw gal, as I may have said once or twice before. I NEED to study…and what could be better than studying the ins and outs of Hogwarts itself?

Now, I wonder if they offer off-campus correspondence courses…

Mark My Words: The E-Book Will Never Be Victorious!

It seems like everyone is talking about Amazon’s recent emission that e-books have surpassed the sale of hardcover books. Our fellow blogger, Joel Blacklock, has been writing some fabulous articles on the whole phenomenon. Til now I have attempted to stay out of this debate, but I feel that the time – to step forward and offer my own two cents on the matter – has come.

Let me get one thing straight first – I don’t want e-books to fail. They represent an important movement in reading books that I embrace wholeheartedly – anything that purports to make reading easier and more accessible has a two-thumbs-up from me! So they’re preaching to the converted! But they’re also preaching to the wrong type of audience. Sure, there will be readers who enjoy being ‘up’ on the latest technology and so will be the first in the lineup for the latest Kindle or Sony e-book-related product. But unlike the fact that pretty much everyone likes to listen to music (the iPod) or talk to others (the iPhone), it’s a sad truth that not everyone likes to read books.

Reading’ll probably always be considered the archaic art that has the characteristic of the mythical phoenix, seemingly dead but rising from the ashes with renewed vigour with every passing generation.

Rather than it being an either/or scenario, I feel like e-books will become part of the book industry, and some readers will find it most convenient to gravitate towards this medium. I am sure the e-book will experience significant growth for consumers, but it ain’t gonna happen for a while yet. Society is experiencing nostalgia as well as progress – it’s why things like Harry Potter (based in an era where magic rules and the computer is exchanged for spell scrolls) and Twilight (based on the supernatural goings-on in the small town Forks where I bet they only just got wireless broadband) have succeeded for the Y Generation. Fantasy is never really about the present – magic concerns the past long-gone, Sci Fi is about the future, and dystopian fiction is an undesirable view of the future. We may be the generation that enjoys progress, but I like to believe we’re all for freedom of expression, and don’t want to be confined to one type of reading outlet. If companies continue to push, push, push this commercial enterprise it’ll just cheapen reading to the point where no one’ll bother – some of the wonderful things about books is the ability to ‘covet’ certain exxy paper editions; ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over gorgeous covers; and yeah, romanticise over the musty/ freshly-pressed ‘smell of books’.

And I’m pretty sure the world is still full of rebel romantics.

The Severus Snape Guide to Literature’s Bad Boys (cont.)

It must have begun at a young age for me, though I can’t remember my first ‘bad boy’ book character. Was there an evil male character in One Fish, Two Fish? Doubt it.
The first memorable one was Colin, from The Secret Garden. Forget Dickon, Colin’s where it’s at, with his petulance and consistent weeping and general hysteria when his authority is questioned. Mary was the only girl who knew how to handle him…how I wished I was Mary!

And in highschool, when I was introduced to Ol’ Willy Shakespeare, I wasn’t so much taken with Romeo and Juliet’s love for each other as I was infatuated with Macbeth’s ambition and his romantic willingness to do whatever Lady Macbeth said! Dreamy.

When I was started on Anne Rice a little later, Lestat was perhaps the most conventionally dashing element of my book character fetish. It didn’t matter to me whether or not he sucked people’s blood, sometimes to the fatal point. What mattered most was that he made sure he looked his best every time he was on the prowl – he was like the century’s first ever metrosexual, and darn proud of it!

But before you judge, cast your mind back to your book crushes. Even the best of girls have trouble resisting Mr Darcy’s charms from Pride and Prejudice. I preferred Captain Wentworth meself. And those fans of Jane Eyre’s Mr Rochester? Go read Wide Sargasso Sea and get back to me on that one. It’s like everything I thought about him when I read the original text, but even juicier and more damning to his character.

It seems that the one thing I cannot stand as my tastes in fictional characters have “matured”, is a male lead being rude to his fellow females (Colin was the early departure from the rule but I have remedied that with my later bad boy choices). Give me a character who wants world domination, who sells his soul for three wishes, who creates an alter ego of himself so he can do evil things without suffering the consequences, rather than a gentleman who treats his lady with disdain. Mr Darcy, it’s just not on!

Draco Malfoy has managed to escape my lusty bookgirl advances because he’s under 18 years of age. Whenever I take a Harry Potter quiz, I’m a Ravenclaw girl (the bookish group), with one point away from being Slytherin (the “evil” group). My guess? Slytherin guys and gals are just misunderstood. They don’t REALLY want to be bad…it’s just that the GOOD guys are so, infuriatingly…well, good. And that would annoy just about anyone, wouldn’t you agree?

So I figure the thing that all my bad boys have in common, perhaps, is that they’re really good boys at heart.
Or at least, that‘s what helps me sleep at night. Heehee!

The Severus Snape Guide to Literature’s Bad Boys

You know, he may not be much of a looker, but I had a mad crush on Severus Snape throughout the entire Harry Potter series. He was quite possibly the drawcard for me to keep reading all 7 books … it wasn’t that I didn’t like the series, I just didn’t love-them-so-much-I-will-dress-like-a-wizard-at-the-midnight-release-and-name-my-firstborn-Voldemort.

But Severus, oh Severus. I shall wait with baited breath for the end of the year when the first part of the final story is released at the cinemas, and I will cry my poor little heart out at that bit (do not click if you’re one of the three people left who hasn’t read the series and you don’t like spoilers). Turns out I’m not the only one. There are a number of sites dedicated to the character of Snape and this isn’t where the obsession for the bad-guy-who-is-really-a-good-guy ends.

In real life, I do not find myself much attracted to the tattooed bikers of the world or the James Dean rebels-without-a-cause (I’m sure some are very nice, I’m just swaying with stereotypes here). I tend instead, to gravitate towards the business suits and the crew cuts. I never had the pleasure of blessing my parents during my teenage years with a cigarette-swilling boy who looked like he could ruin my future with one well-timed wink. But when it comes to reel life, and literature in particular, I just can’t help myself.

It is funny, thinking about how universal this idea of a ‘bad boy’ is. Twilight is said to have started the trend for a possessive romance, but this is really nothing new. No one could doubt that gothic legend Heathcliff loved Cathy to death. And in comparison to the old Byronic men, Bella’s Edward isn’t even that bad. The idea has been around for donkey’s years – probably since the princess fell in love with the dragon rather than the heroic prince, all because the dragon offered her a very beautiful necklace (albeit a very beautiful stolen necklace), from his hoard of treasure.

Adele Walsh does a wonderful post on the bad poster boys of YA literature; but beyond YA, there’s a smorgasbord of fiction (including the classics) which still holds to the famous adage: “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven”…

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?

Why the iPad is Not Going to Save Publishing

Today’s release of Apple’s iPad in the United States and the absolutely hysterical reaction to it is as good a time as any to take a moment and think about the impact of devices like the iPad on publishing.

As you may or may not know, many publishing companies, particularly in newsprint, are not faring well. Newspapers across the world lost billions of dollars in the last year – their worst result in recent memory, and the word is that it’s only going to get worse. Books are faring a little better, but publishing folk are looking askance at their newspaper buddies and getting worried. This fear is partially what fuels the distaste for ebooks in the first place.

But not everyone in publishing is a backwards-looking nostalgic with a Luddite agenda. Some of them are tragic optimists as well. In fact, many people in the book trade herald each new device as the ‘killer’ gadget, the one machine to save us all. People said it about the Kindle, they’ve been saying it about gadgets like Plastic Logic’s Que for years (it still hasn’t been released) and they said it about the Nook, until it turned out to be a steaming pile of fail.

There are also a lot of people like me, who believe – wrongly – that the killer device has not been released yet, but fervently hope that when it is all our problems will be solved.

The truth is that no single device is going to save publishing. Publishing of all kinds will save itself – or die trying. Just as with the digital music revolution and the average punter’s passion for music, there is still an overwhelming fervour out there for the written word in all its guises. We still buy millions upon millions of books, from huge bestsellers like Harry Potter or Twilight to stuff like The Slap. What all these purchases prove is that people still like to read books – content is king. At the moment, particularly in Australia, consumers simply do not have access to the electronic content.

I’m not trying to point fingers here; there are plenty of publishers who are putting off the inevitable when it comes to ebooks, and plenty out there doing great things (Allen & Unwin and Macmillan, I’m looking at you). Equally there are booksellers who have been on board with ebooks for years, and others that are doing nothing. There are also authors who have been on the digital bandwagon for years, and others who are still thinking about starting a MySpace page next year.

The point is that the future isn’t going to be any different because you drag your heels and moan about the smell of books. You’re just going to get left behind. The iPad isn’t going to save publishing either – it’s just a platform with great potential. If you have any ideas for how you want to read books (or make them) in the future, then educate yourself and start making demands now. Because whether you like it or not, things are going to change, but how it changes and into what is still up to us.

Sam Downing Reviews: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

I was chatting with a friend not long ago about Neil Gaiman’s writing style, and we agreed that his is an authorial voice you either like or you don’t: my friend doesn’t like it, but I do. A lot. Gaiman has a knack of adapting to whatever genre he’s writing in, but his work always has a sense of the very old, the very deep, and the very strange.

I started The Graveyard Book with high expectations, and wasn’t disappointed: Like all the best children’s literature, it’s wildly imaginative, seductively scary, and a sophisticated read for both kids and adults.

Loosely inspired by The Jungle BookThe Graveyard Book  is the story of a baby who escapes from the ruthless killer who’s murdered his parents, and escapes to a very old graveyard. Rechristened Nobody “Bod” Owens, he’s raised by the graveyard’s ghostly  inhabitants and encounters vampires, werewolves, witches and other beasties as he grows up. (The Guardian has a more detailed, though mildly spoilery, synopsis; I recommend going into it without knowing about the plot’s direction.)

It kind of reminded me of Harry Potter, if Harry Potter’s sprawling story was condensed into a single book: The Graveyard Book  has the same magical, captivating and adventurous tone. I felt really sad when I turned the last page, both because of the way the plot wrapped up, and because I’d finished a really great book.

Each chapter advances Bod’s age by around two years and stands alone as a story (more or less), making this a breezy read. If you never read anything of Gaiman’s before, this is a fine entry point.1

Gaiman has proposed writing more books exploring the backstory of the Graveyard universe, but with a darker, more adult tone – a sort of “The Lord Of The Rings, to which The Graveyard Book would have been The Hobbit, in his words. I want to read that book so bad. Right now.

This month’s guest reviewer, Sam Downing, is a twenty-something blogger, young-adult writer and hack journalist from Sydney. Follow him on Twitter and visit his blog here.