As the end of the year approaches and I desperately attempt to catch up on telling you about what I’ve been reading, may I present another bunch of mini-reviews…

Grimsdon (2010) and New City (2014) by Deborah Abila
9780857983220   9781742758558
Is it possible for a book to be both a dystopian sci-fi and a charming kids’ story? These two tales certainly manage it. Plus they throw in some environmental messages. A captivating read about kids in a flooded city after an environmental disaster, and their subsequent move to a new city as refugees.
thriveThrive (2015) by Mary Borsellino

An intriguing YA dystopian novel. Interesting characters and world, but the story is a bit disjointed and oddly paced. I enjoyed it, but it didn’t quite gel for me. It’s one of those books that I really wanted to love more than I actually did.

9781760154035300 Minutes of Danger (2015) by Jack Heath

Ten linked short stories that are fast-paced and EXCITING! Suspense, danger and action are the driving forces here. I love the concept of linked story collections like this. You get the immediacy of short fiction with the bigger picture of longer fiction, all in one book.

9780575086937Patient Zero (2009) by Jonathan Maberry

This is the first book in the popular Joe Ledger series, about a cop who goes to work for a special ops government agency, The Department of Military Sciences. This is a hard-edged, fast-paced techno-thriller about terrorists using a bio-weapon that turns people into zombies. Ledger is a wonderfully engaging character and Maberry is a master of this genre. The rest of the series is lined up on my to-be-read pile.

51gqzolrwll-_sx354_bo1204203200_Just Plain Cat (1981) by Nancy K Robinson

A nice story about a young boy and his newly acquired pet cat. Below this surface story are family relationships and the experiences of starting at a new school. All handled with quite a lovely old fashioned touch.

9780994469335Zombie Inspiration (2016) by Adam Wallace, illustrated by James Hart

Mad, bonkers fun! During a zombie apocalypse, with much brain-eating, Adam, James and Stacey run, hide, dispatch zombies and learn a little about themselves. A unique and innovative idea, this book is linked to an online course about using zombies as inspiration to be all you can be. Check it out!

9781741663099The Laws of Magic: Moment of Truth (2010) by Michael Pryor

This is the second-last book in Pryor’s wonderful, magical, engaging and totally awesome series set in an alternative history Edwardian period, where magic and science co-exist. I love then so much, I’ve been reading one book a year in order to try and make them last. I’ll read the final one next year.

thumb_cover_not_just_a_piece_of_cake_jpgNot Just a Piece of Cake: Being an Author (2015) by Hazel Edwards

Hazel Edwards, author of the famed picture book, There’s A Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake, has dipped into her own life story for this engaging memoir. It has a lovely conversational tone that makes you feel like you’re privy to a private chat rather than reading a book. Edwards doesn’t shy away from difficult topics, presenting a warts and all story. Loved it!

9780994358356Hijabi Girl (2016) by Hazel Edwards and Ozge Alkan, illustrated by Serena Geddes

Fiction, especially children’s fiction, can do extraordinary things. It can often achieve outcomes that no amount of lecturing or shouting from rooftops can. It can be enlightening while also being entertaining. It can promote understanding while also telling a good story. And this is what Hijabi Girl does. It’s a good story about kids in a school. Like all kids they have their friendships and difficulties; they deal with teachers and teasing; they have their likes and dislikes. They are ordinary kids doing ordinary things. But one of them happens to be Vietnamese. And another is a Muslim girl who wears a hijab. The cultural differences among these kids are simply part of everyday life, along with all the other little differences between them. One character likes soccer, another likes drawing; one character is into princesses, another likes Aussie Rules footy; one character eats rice paper rolls, another eats only halal food; one character has a pet rat, the others don’t; one character wears a hijab, the others don’t. In the end, difference is not only accepted, but celebrated. As it should be in real life. More kids books like this please!

Catch ya later, George

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Hazel Edwards discusses collaboration and controversy

Hazel EdwardsOn the day that prolific Australian author, Hazel Edwards was honoured with an Order of Australia Medal for services to literature, her latest young adult novel was receiving a very different distinction at the other end of the country.

Hazel Edwards has written more than 200 books, including the hugely popular Hippopotamus picture book series, but none has provoked the reaction of f2m: the boy within. The book, co-written by Ryan Kennedy, tells the story of Skye who becomes Finn and transitions from female to male.

F2m prompted heart-felt messages of thanks from teenagers facing gender challenges of their own, but it also provoked a hostile reaction from other places.

F2m: the boy within was banned from a library in North Queensland on the day Hazel Edwards was awarded her OAM. Elsewhere, it was thrown in the bin by a teacher who described it as ‘rubbish,’ and left off library lists because of concerns over the sensitive subject matter.

But for Hazel Edwards and Ryan Edwards the story was too important to allow it to be smothered by fear. So, they have extended their project. Ftm: the boy within is now the subject of a documentary and a YouTube clip which highlight the importance of fiction in dealing with sensitive personal issues.

Hazel Edwards chats with me today, about f2m: the boy within, the documentary and diversity.

You are best known for your delightful picture books featuring a cake-eating hippo. What prompted you to write about gender transitioning?

f2mDocumentary-Image-PAGEFtm means female to male transitioning. But our title is f2m, like adolescent texting and also indicates our collaboration. Co-author Ryan is a family friend, whom I’d known since he was 11, and presenting as a girl. I knew he was transitioning from female to male, and admired his courage. A great collaboration. It would have taken me years to research what he already knew. Plus he’d kept a medical diary, and although the f2m: the boy within is fiction, NOT an autobiography, the medical sequences are accurate.

We chose YA novel format because 17-ish is time for photo ID for drivers licence and when most teens are seeking their identity. Ford Street Publishing who specialise in edgy YA, was willing to support our risky project. Brave.

It was short-listed by the internationally prestigious White Ravens best YA fiction 2011.

Can you explain a little about this collaboration?

This project has taken more work than any of my other books, and is probably the most significant.

Since Ryan is New Zealand based and I’m in Melbourne, we wrote on Skype across a year and more than 30 drafts – a few embarrassing mistypings on my part with Skye (the character) and Skype (the process).

Ryan created the book trailer, and has adapted the doco length to go up on YouTube. He also organized the NZ book launch with me present only on webcam on the wall of the Wellington Unity Bookshop.

Initially print published, the e-book is now important for easy access. And we hope it will be translated into other languages and new media.

This was a first: the subject of transitioning gender in a Young Adult novel, co-written by an actual ftm (female to male) author.

Skye transitions to Finn with the help of bemused friends and family, punk music and a Gran who understands because she had a sibling facing similar challenges. Being able to use fiction to initiate discussion has been helpful for families and for gender diversity groups, because ‘it’s the kind of novel you can give to a parent too.’

“Tick the box. M or F. Male or Female are the only options ‘ordinary’ people know about. M for Male. F for Female. You’re one or the other. But what if you’re not? Like me. As I’m finding out.”

What reaction did f2m: the boy within get?

f2mMixed. We’ve had fantastic fan mail, fan art and much gratitude from diverse families who use it as a discussion starter. The subject is controversial, but not our handling of it. Ryan has had poignant e-mails from readers reassured that they are not the only ones, and grateful older readers who wished the book had been available earlier. ‘Might have saved lives and anguish.’

Although widely and positively reviewed, it’s often left off reading lists by apprehensive librarians who fear objections from minorities. Placed on the banned shelf in a public library in north Queensland, the same day I was awarded an OAM for Literature at Government House (not connected), but approved by groups like the Safe Schools Coalition Victoria and word-of-mouth recommendations. It was also short-listed by the internationally prestigious White Ravens best YA fiction 2011. The problem is that if the book is not available, it can’t be read or found.

Were you surprised by the reaction?

No, we’d expected some negative comments. Our greatest surprise was from those who had NOT read the book, yet refused to put it into their libraries or allow others to read it. We thought the literary collaboration between a heterosexual grandmother and an ftm would reassure. It did. We did lots of radio, including ABC Life Matters, which is indexed as a podcast.

Can you tell us about the documentary on reactions to the gender-transitioning subject in f2m: the boy within

Psychologist Meredith Fuller, a co-director of Kailash Studios offered to interview both co-authors as a documentary. It took a year to get us all together to film on the one day. Director Brian Walsh who is also a psychologist, produced the documentary.

The documentary attempts to answer, via interviewing the co-authors the creativity of coping successfully with diversity. Especially when others may fear change or diversity.It has already been screened at festivals such as Shepparton’s Out in the Open, Melbourne’s Midsumma and the international 2014 AIDs conference.

How important is fiction for tackling difficult issues, especially for adolescents?

Vital. YA fiction offers an opportunity to see from the viewpoint of that character for the length of the story and beyond. If you are in circumstances like that character, it reassures you are not the only one. And in the case of transitioning gender, a subject about which there is little information for outsiders, it educates readers, via compassion. It’s hard enough finding your identity as a mainstream adolescent, but the complication of feeling you are in the wrong kind of body, is overwhelming. And if ignorant others shun you, that makes things worse.

Our book has prevented suicides. But a novel can’t just be propaganda, it must be a story in its own right. We avoided ‘sensationalising’ which is what often happens with trans gender in media. Within the novel, we have a range of family and friends, humour and punk music and even a bullying scene.

f2m: the boy withinWhat’s next for you?

Finishing my memoir: Let Hippos Eat Cake: Being a Children’s Author or Not?

Thanks for visiting, Hazel, and good luck with f2m and finishing your memoir.

Author websites:

Julie Fison writes for children and young adults. Her books include the Hazard River series for young readers, Choose Your Own Ever After, a pick-a-path series that lets the reader decide how the story goes, and Counterfeit Love for young adults.



Launching Gracie and Josh

On Saturday I went to Richmond Library for the launch of a rather amazing new picture book, Gracie and Josh. It was a launch that had everything — lots of people, a fabulous book, a chocolate cake and even Hazel Edwards. What more could you want?

Gracie and Josh

Gracie and Josh is written by Susanne Gervay and illustrated by Serena Geddes. The book was ably launched by Hazel Edwards, no stranger to picture books herself, having written the classic There’s a Hippopotamus On Our Roof Eating Cake. She paid tribute not only to the author and illustrator, but also to the publisher, Ford Street Publishing, for taking a risk on such book. Also speaking at the launch was a representative of Variety: The Children’s Charity, which has endorsed this book.

Hazel conducts the launch

Gracie and Josh is about a little girl and her older brother. Josh has cancer and sometimes has to go to hospital and sometimes has bad weeks when he can’t get out of bed. Despite this, the book is not at all a downer. It is joyful and hopeful and fun and utterly delightful. It focusses on the relationship between Josh and Gracie rather than on Josh’s illness — in fact, the word ‘cancer’ is never actually used in the text.

The illustrations are beautiful. They complement the text and ‘say’ things that are not said with the words. Josh’s lack of hair makes his illness obvious without the need for using the word ‘cancer’. Gracie’s expression when Josh’s beanie falls off, says so much about her feelings for her brother without the need to specify them with words. This book is a perfect combination of words and pictures, each working with the other rather than just mirroring.

This book works on a couple of different levels, very aptly demonstrated by my daughters. While at the launch, my elder daughter read the book to her younger sister. Lexi is four years old, and although she understood that Josh was sick, she didn’t really understand the gravity of that situation. She just enjoyed the fun aspects of the story and the relationship between the siblings. Nykita is almost ten, and she did understand the implications of Josh’s illness. But still, the joy in the story is what she took away from it.

Nykita and Lexi

Gracie and Josh is a really lovely book. I heard much talk at the launch about how it would make a good gift for kids who have ill family members. And yes, that is true. But I think it has much wider appeal. As I wrote earlier, it is the love shared by siblings that is the focus of the story. And love is universal.

Catch ya later,  George

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NYR12 vids

Time for some videos. Specifically, some videos dealing with the National Year of Reading (NYR12).

“I want Australia to be many things: a prosperous nation, an innovative nation, but I certainly want us to be a reading nation… I want every Australian to know the joy and pleasure that comes from books and reading.”
Julia Gillard, PM

Throughout this year, the NYR12 initiative has been aiming to do just that — spread the joy and pleasure that comes from books and reading. Given that 2012 will be coming to an end in just over two months, I thought that now would be a good time for a post about NYR12. So, I had a look at their YouTube channel and picked out some of their vids to show you.

Lets start off with the simple little promo that’s been online since September last year:

NYR12 has over 100 ambassadors promoting reading across the country. Many of them have recorded messages to share via the NYR12 site. Here’s one from their patron, actor and author William McInnes:

Hazel Edwards, author of many books for kids, teens and adults, is probably best known for her picture book, There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake. But she is also the co-author of the controversial (and utterly brilliant) YA novel about a teen who is transitioning gender from female to male, f2m: the boy within. Here’s her message:

Alison Lester, author and illustrator of books such as Sophie Scott Goes South and Noni the Pony, has this to say:

There are also messages from people involved with library administration. For example, Sue Hutley, Executive Director of the Australian Library and Information Association:

Finally, let’s go back to the beginning with a speech from the launch of NYR12 at the National Library of Australia in Canberra. I felt that, given her recent news-making speech, it would be rather appropriate to let our Prime Minister Julia Gillard have the last word:

Catch ya later,  George

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Anthology preview

There’s a new anthology on the way. It contains contributions from over 50 Australian authors and illustrators (including me). It’s not due for release until June this year. But I’m so excited about it, that I’m gonna give you a little heads up!

Back in 2008, Ford Street Publishing released a HUGE anthology of stories, poems and illustrations for kids and teens. Edited by Paul Collins and featuring Gary Crew, Andy Griffiths and Hazel Edwards among its 50+ contributors, Trust Me! has been one of Ford Street’s biggest sellers. In fact, it has proved to be so popular that Collins and Ford Street have produced a sequel — Trust Me Too.

Again, we are being provided with a smorgasbord of Australian literary and illustrative talent. Take a look at the promo poster, which features photos of all the contributors…

I can’t wait to get my contributor’s copy so I can read all the stories from the other authors. So much talent in the one book!

Particularly exciting for me is that this anthology gave me the opportunity to write a new Gamers short story. The whole Gamers thing began with a short story, titled “Game Plan”, which appeared in Trust Me!. I then adapted that story into the novel, Gamers’ Quest… which then begat a sequel, Gamers’ Challenge. And now in Trust Me Too, I’ve got “Gamers’ Inferno”.

While set in the same universe as the Gamers books (a computer game world with multiple environments), “Gamers’ Inferno” is a completely independent story. You don’t need to have read the books to understand (and hopefully enjoy) the story. But if you have read the books, there are little nods and references to pick up on.

“Gamers’ Inferno” introduces a new set of characters and features a game environment not previously seen in the novels. I’ve got to say, that I had a lot of fun writing this story. It’s set in a vaguely Italian Renaissance inspired city under the control of the mysterious Inquisition, ruling through fear and the threat of the Inferno. A young orphan named Raph, finds himself on the run from the Inquisition’s militia. After getting advice from the mysterious Dama Sebastiana Annunciata, hidden away from the militia in the bowels of the city, Raph finally comes face-to-face with the Lords of the Inquisition — Lord Brimstone, Lord Blaze and Lord Dante. Will he find himself thrown into the Inferno? You’ll have to wait until June to find out. 😉

Catch ya later,  George

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Professor Fred Hollows is the latest book in New Frontier’s inspiring Aussie Heroes Series.

According to the late Professor Fred Hollows “Three out of four people who are blind don’t have to be. They are blinded by poverty alone.”

Popular author, Hazel Edwards takes us through the life of this inspiring man and his amazing achievements.

Fred qualified as an eye doctor and moved to Australia. He gave ‘vision’ to more than one million people. He worked in remote and Aboriginal communities providing much needed aid, often for free.

Fred Hollows worked tirelessly to heal the eyes of people suffering from cataracts and glaucoma. He treated everyone the same regardless of wealth or status; his one priority to restore their sight.

He pioneered mobile health clinics and set up factories in Eritrea and Napal to manufacture intraocular lenses at an affordable price. By doing this he was able to reduce the cost of the lenses from $200 to $10 each, making the treatment far more accessible.

Hazel Edwards has meticulously researched Fred Hollow’s life and achievements and presented them in an easy to read text that makes Professor Fred Hollows very accessible to readers and an important addition to school libraries.

Pat Reynolds full colour illustrations work with the text to provide an engaging biography of a man who achieved so much in a relatively short time.

Educational Resources are available for Professor Fred Hollows from Hazel Edward’s website.



The National Year of Reading

2012 is the National Year of Reading in Australia. It is a collaborative initiative, involving public libraries, government, community groups, media and commercial partners. There are heaps of activities planned for the coming year. And it all gets officially launched on 14 February.

But what’s it all about? Well here it is, straight from the horse’s mouth. The National Year of Reading 2012 (NYR12) website has this to say:

The National Year of Reading 2012 is about children learning to read and keen readers finding new sources of inspiration. It’s about supporting reading initiatives while respecting the oral tradition of storytelling. It’s about helping people discover and rediscover the magic of books. And most of all, it’s about Australians becoming a nation of readers.

Author and actor, William McInnes, is the NYR12 Patron. But there are over 50 other NYR12 Ambassadors who will be out and about, promoting reading throughout the year. These include authors, illustrators, politicians and sportspeople — such as AFL footballer Phil Davis; former PM and current MP, Kevin Rudd; and radio presenters Scotty and Nige.

To kick off the NYR12 here at Literary Clutter, I approached National Ambassador Hazel Edwards with a few questions.

How did you become involved with the National Year of Reading?

I’m a readaholic. In any format — E or page or audio. The Love2Read people invited me to be a National Ambassador since I write in different formats, like performance literacy scripts, picture books, etc and for different audiences including adults, YA (adolescents) and young readers. So families can share the gift of imagination, and read embassassing moments from their history, I run workshops in Writing Non Boring Family Histories or Writing for Your Grandkids. I’ve also been involved in Skype web chats with rural adolescents in connection with the controversial YA novel f2m: the boy within (co-written with Ryan Kennedy) about transitioning gender, so I’m keen on innovative ways of encouraging those not yet readaholics.

Why is this initiative important to you?

Reading makes you more tolerant of others who are different. Reading gives you thinking skills and ways of solving problems. Skills give you confidence. I have two grandsons for whom I write a story each year. The last one was “Henry-Garnet the Serial-Sock-Puller” for the 1 year old. (He’s moved up to pulling his shoes off now.)

I link writing and reading. I’ve also featured a non-reader Art, as the hero in my junior e-mysteries Project Spy Kids. Art is an ace problem-solver. Illustrator Jane Connory has developed some merchandise for ‘cool’ screen reading and a Design Your Own Mystery downloadable activity. So game instructions can be part of reading too.

Family co-writing and reading can be fun. I co-wrote Cycling Solo: Ireland to Istanbul with my son Trevelyan, who was the imagination behind There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake when he was four. Trev did ALL the cycling! This year he is walking the Appalachian Mountains trail in USA for five months and we’ll be co-writing about that.

What will you be doing as a National Year of Reading Ambassador?

Talks. Sharing fun ways of reading. Mentoring reader-writers. Online interviews. Introducing new reading fashions like e-books.

Demonstrating ways you might read with children. For example, the Yamba Imparja TV clip on my website of me reading Look There’s a Hippopotamus in the Playground Eating Cake. was to encourage indigenous pre-school literacy habits.

Reading needs a purpose. So far I have offered two performance e-scripts from my website, free for any literacy groups who wish to perform them. “An L of a Difference” has a zany, small businesswoman who uses clever ways of learning to read.

My thanks to Hazel for taking the time to answer these questions. To find out more about Hazel and her involvement with NYR, check out her website.

Like Hazel, I’m also excited about NYR12. I couldn’t imagine my life without reading, and I’m eager to share my enthusiasm. So I was delighted when my old school, Mentone Grammar, asked me to become their Patron Reading Ambassador for NYR12. I’m looking forward to the year ahead. 🙂

Tune in next time, when two more NYR Ambassadors drop by for some questions.

Catch ya later,  George

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More Punk… with Ryan Kennedy

Last post, Hazel Edwards dropped by to talk about the punk aspects of f2m: the boy within. Today, we are joined by her co-author, Ryan Kennedy, as he gives us his two cents worth on the same topic…

How We Co-Wrote Punk — Ryan’s View

The punk aspect of our story required little research on my part. I’ve always wanted to write about the punk scene, having spent four years immersed in it, and still enjoying the odd live show now and then.

For me, it was a natural choice to cast the main character as a punk; it was the best way to quickly immerse myself in the character. I found it easier to write a punk teenager than to write a non-punk, and it brought a dimension to our story that Hazel would have needed to spend a lot of time researching.

It’s not just about wearing clothes covered in patches of favourite bands and slogans – a punk teenager sees the world through a different lens, one of questioning what is taught. The ideas found in punk encouraged questioning what I was told by parents, schools and peers and allowed me to more easily abandon the life I was supposed to be leading and follow my own path. In punk, I found the freedom to explore music, my beliefs and ultimately who I was, and to experiment with gender roles and how I presented myself to the world — exploration that led to my gender transition.

To me, punk is a music scene with anarchist principles at its core. Practically, this translates into questioning what authorities teach through schools and government, pointing out where those in power abuse their power at the expense of the vulnerable and the environment, and living and promoting peace and anti-violence. Because it’s also a music scene there are punks placed all along this spectrum of political involvement, from daily activism to intellectual rather than practical involvement, to being interested in the music alone.

I see the punk side of Finn’s character as integral in his journey to understanding that he needs to transition to male, where the book begins. Of course, there are teenagers unaware of this fairly underground scene who decide to transition, but this journey for Finn was one that I could most easily relate to, and provided a setting that I thought readers would learn from and find interesting. Those familiar within the scene will appreciate the accurate depiction and musical references, and those unfamiliar will learn about something new and be less likely to judge punks on appearances and stereotypes. This was also a goal of the gender transition story.

I chose the bands referenced in the book quite carefully. All of the local band names are fictional, with the ‘Chronic Cramps’ being a reference to the Cramps, a mixed-gender punk band from the 1970s. For the real bands, I chose older artists like Bikini Kill, Iggy Pop and NOFX partly so that the book wouldn’t date because of the bands referenced, and also so that younger readers would have some great music to look up while reading the book. In this way f2m: the boy within already has its own soundtrack spanning three decades of punk. The beauty of writing books is that you don’t need permission or to pay for the rights to play an artist’s music like you would for a movie – the soundtrack plays in the reader’s mind!

Bikini Kill were the most influential (and some would say the first) Riot Grrl band, a genre of feminist punk rock from the 1990s; there is no doubt that they would make a strong impression on Finn and the Chronic Cramps. Artists who are not specifically punk are referenced as well, to show that Finn has varied musical tastes and doesn’t limit himself to one genre, something I found throughout the punk scene; freedom of thought seems to flow into freedom of musical influences.

During the period that f2m: the boy within was written, I explored new punk bands and revisited some old favourites. But not while I was writing – I find it too distracting!

George’s bit at the end

Some great music insights! Thanks, Ryan. To find out more about Ryan Kennedy and his writing, check out his website. And follow him on Twitter.

And tune in next time for a post about graphic novels.

Catch ya later,  George

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Punk… with Hazel Edwards

Last year saw the publication of a rather extraordinary and unique YA novel, f2m: the boy within. As far as I’m aware, it’s the first YA novel to deal with female-to-male gender transitioning from the perspective of a young person (18 year old Finn) going through the process. The subject is handled with sensitivity, understanding and honesty… and it’s a great read.

Commentary on this book, understandably, tends to focus on the primary topic of transitioning gender. But there is more to the book than that. It is also deeply immersed in the punk music scene, an aspect that adds to the storytelling and to the novel’s uniqueness. I thought it was about time someone shed a little light on the punk aspects of this novel, and so I have invited the book’s co-authors, Hazel Edwards and Ryan Kennedy, to blog about it. First up, here’s Hazel…

How We Co-Wrote Punk — Hazel’s View

Participant-observation is the fancy name for doing new things so I can write realistically later. This has been my excuse for hot air ballooning, lazing with a glass of wine on a French canal barge and even checking municipal water channels (with an engineer) for returning platypus. All called work, especially for the tax man.

In my other YA novels, I go to great lengths (even Antarctica) to experience and then write accurately about a setting.

Punk music was different.

I’m aware that many authors use mood music when writing. I don’t. The only time was co-writing the satire Operatic Duck with Christine Anketell. In the community arts scene, where there’s no elephant for the Grand March from Aida, we used the duck. And played the march music to fit the chapter action while we wrote. Fun!

I’m digressing because I haven’t got much to say about punk music and the writing of f2m: the boy within.

This is where I relied heavily on my co-author Ryan, who has been a punk musician and still is.

The naming of ‘The Chronic Cramps’ (the band featured in the novel) was all Ryan. ‘Mosh’ was a new word for me.

There were three new languages I had to learn for this novel — transitioning gender, genetics and punk. The vocabulary had to be right. Especially the pronouns.

My first ‘punk’ mistake was in writing the draft synopsis. I stated that our character Finn found more difficulty transitioning gender than making it in the punk scene. Ryan told me that punk is NOT competitive. I rewrote the synopsis.

In the scenes where punk music was performed, I had an overseer role in the ‘crafting’ to make sure the scene worked, writing-wise. The detail was Ryan’s. If he had been living in Melbourne, I probably would have gone to a few punk performances, with him interpreting, but because he was in New Zealand, while we co-wrote electronically, I deferred to his expert knowledge.

This is a genuine advantage in having a co-author who is expert in a field. Of course, Ryan had the participant observation experience of transitioning gender too. I didn’t.

My role was the naïve observer-listener, who asked the pertinent questions that the ‘average’ person might wonder about.

So I asked about the sound, smell, customs, language and status (who did and didn’t do, what) in the punk world. I was interpreting across cultures. Age was also a factor. I was a generation away in age, but often that is irrelevant for an author. Creators need to be androgynous and write from any gender viewpoint. They also need to be no age, just the age of their central character in that book. So I was emotionally aged 18 for f2m: the boy within. So was my co-author Ryan.

So I don’t have any punk favourites, but I do find the names intriguing.

George’s bit at the end

Make sure to tune in next time for Ryan’s view.

From writing about an operatic duck to exploring the world of punk, Hazel has had quite a varied writing career, which, of course, includes one of Australia’s all-time favourite children’s picture books, There’s a Hippopotamus on our Roof Eating Cake. To find out more about Hazel Edwards and her writing, check out her website. And follow her on Twitter.

Catch ya later,  George

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Goodbye 2010

2010 is almost over. For me personally, it was a bit of a mixed bag — some good stuff; some not-so-good stuff. As for writing and reading, it was a pretty damn good year. So, let me sum it up for you. Yes, that’s right — if Literary Clutter were a tv show, then this post would be the flashbacks episode. 😉

I got to do some fun school visits (check out this post on Dee White’s Kids’ Book Capers Blog), some bookstore signings (check out my Shameless Self-promotion post) and I participated in the Pigeon Letters literacy project (check out my Pigeons post). I had the honour of launching issue 2 of [untitled] and Sue Bursztynski’s new YA werewolf novel, Wolfborn. I also spent the second semester teaching a creative writing subject at the University of Melbourne (a HUGE learning experience for me). But top of the list for 2010 events was Aussiecon 4, the 68th World Science Fiction Convention (check out my Aussiecon 4 Memories post), held here in Melbourne in September.

It was a good year for books, with lots of great titles released during 2010. My top 5 for the year are as follows: (keeping in mind that there was an awful lot of great stuff I didn’t get around to reading)

  1. Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld (I’d also include Leviathan, which was published in 2009, but which I did not get around to reading until 2010)
  2. Trash by Andy Mulligan [read my review]
  3. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger [read my review]
  4. Wolfborn by Sue Bursztynski [read my review]
  5. f2m: the boy within by Hazel Edwards and Ryan Kennedy

I started blogging in 2010 with Literary Clutter and I’ve really been enjoying the informal writing approach that it offers. My teen novel, Gamers’ Quest, continued to sell steadily. I had six school readers published. I wrote another seven school readers, as well as a six book kids’ library reference series called What’s In My Food, that will be published next year. I wrote a whole bunch of short stories, some that I’ve managed to sell, and some that are now languishing at the bottom of my crap drawer. And I’ve been working on a sequel to Gamers’ Quest. I’m very excited about this and will undoubtedly post about it in 2011. I’m on the home stretch at the moment, so my blogging will be taking the back seat for the next few weeks. Don’t expect more than one post a week until I’ve handed the novel to my publisher.

So, what sort of wonders does 2011 potentially hold? I’m REALLY, REALLY, REALLY looking forward to the publication of two books — Goliath, the third book in Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series; and Liberator, the sequel to Richard Harland’s Worldshaker. I’ve got some more school readers lined up, and hopefully another library reference series (I’m still waiting on the publisher to get back to me on this one). I’m planning on starting a new novel. And I plan on continuing to blog — assuming, of course, that the lovely people at Boomerang Books still want me to. 🙂 I’ve got some interviews lined up and I’ll also be reviewing a stack of books. And then there are the videos I’ve been promising — little author interviews that I recorded at Aussieon 4. I’m afraid I still haven’t finished editing them… so you’ll have to wait a little while longer for those. Sorry!

So folks… Happy New Year. May 2011 bring you lots of exciting new books and many hours of reading pleasure.

Catch you all next year.

PS. Follow me on Twitter… quickly, before the year ends!


Hazel Edwards talks co-writing

I’ve always been fascinated by two authors co-writing a book, and I’ve seriously considered it from time to time, sharing the workload with another author. But it isn’t as simple as just dividing the work and completing it, and Hazel Edwards, author of over 200 books for children, young adults and adults, has swung by the blog today to take us through the benefits of co-writing and everything else she’s ever been asked on the subject. So, budding co-writers, this is your manual!

On the benefits of co-writing

Co-Writing can be a bonus. It’s fun.  Twice the work in half the time. With a few laughs too. So what are the benefits?

1. Overcomes procrastination.
Knowing you have a date with a partner gives a personal deadline.You feel obliged to write your share before you next meet.

2. Varied workplaces.
Can be more sociable. Try the cappucinno approach of working in cafes, midway between. Or you can alternate home offices. Of course if you work in another state or country, the coffees have to be virtual.

3. Learning from each other.
From my Duckstar co-writer, I learnt how to pace scenes in a book because as a director, Christine knows how humour works on stage. From my f2m:the boy within co-author Ryan, I’ve learnt about transitioning gender, punk music and technology such as creating book trailers, novel plotting on Skype, web-cam book launches linking countries and how to put funny emoticons on e-messages.

4. Ghosting.
Often non- fiction is commissioned and co-authors may be put together for their expertise, or for one to ‘ghost’. Factual or educational writing is easier to co-author, as long as you have a logical mind. Or one of you does. Structure matters. So does writing for the particular audience.

5. Emotional collaboration.
Long fiction or series require a different kind of emotional collaboration. In the Duckstar series of 4 easy-to-read books, we adopted characters, so the grumpy male bellydancing pig became one of mine. We also acted out scenes to get the dialogue right. We used mood music such as the Grand March from ‘Aida’, but with a budget duck strutting instead of an elephant.We co-wrote detailed synopses, since these stories are animal satires of the various arts such as community opera, touring and advertising. The final language was simple but our concepts were more complex.

6. Editing.
In f2m:the boy within, Ryan wrote the first draft chapters based on our joint synopsis for the YA novel. We rewrote over 4o times, but this was a benefit of a second mind, when the other was tired. We also lived in different time zones.

7. Partners may have totally different skills. 
Working with an illustrator such as John Petropolous on Plato the Platypus Plumber (part-time) who is a graphic designer in his other life, was brilliant because he was used to working to a brief. And he had a quirky sense of humour which enabled him to design the underwater plumber’s tool kit, with tools for fixing grumpy people.In other author-illustrator relationships, many never meet and rely on a written brief. We met several times in coffee shops, where John P kept sketching concepts on the table as we spoke. Fun.

8. Contracts.
Apart from any agreement with a publisher it’s wise to have a 50/50 split with your co-author on any expenses and income relating to the project. The Australian Society of Authors has guidelines (click here).

9. Who thought of what?
Sometimes it’s genuinely difficult to remember later who thought of what. Especially if the project becomes very financially successful. So a signed agreement about co-rights solves later problems. Especially with e-rights and multimedia.

10. Publicity.
Both of you can publicise the project or substitute for each other.

11.  Anthologies
Being part of an anthology differs from co-writing because usually the editor commissions a specific article or story. Unless you are the editor-contributor, which means making thematic decisions about what goes in or needs rewriting.

12. Joke.
Joke about what goes wrong. We lost the ‘Anxiety’ chapter from Difficult Personalities in cyberspace between our computers. Apt.

13. Cope.
Coping with criticism. You need a united front and with a co-writer it’s wonderful to feel another is on your side, and you can celebrate  together too.

14. Finding a Co-Writer
Your co-writer could be someone you already know! I wrote Cycling Solo with my son, Trevelyan Quest Edwards. 🙂

If Co-Writing is Like Marriage, When do You Need to Divorce?

• When one is doing an unfair share of the work.
• If one takes all the public credit.
• External market changes or the project’s aims change.
• When you disagree more than you agree.
• It’s not financially viable.

To read more from Hazel, you can check out her website here, or read a fantastic article she wrote about gender and pronouns to launch Perpetually Adolescent here.

A Celebration of Books at the Ford Street Literary Festival

Last week I attended the Ford Street Literary Festival at Scotch College in Hawthorn and I really wanted to blog about this inspiring example of kids having fun with books and their creators.

(Pictured below are Jo Thompson, Meredith Costain and David Miller who got down to the bare bones of writing and illustrating at the Ford Street Literary Festival.)

What better way for an author to spend a day than in the company of other authors and illustrators and 175 enthusiastic kids and their dedicated teachers?

Graham Davey (champion of children’s literature in Australia) was the MC for the day and he kept the kids entertained and the day moving along smoothly.

Students from schools across Victoria from Years 5 to 10 gathered to talk books and writing with Paul Collins, Meredith Costain, Justin D’Ath, Hazel Edwards, George Ivanoff, , Phil Kettle, Doug MacLeod, Felicity Marshall, Foz Meadows, JE Fison, Liz Flaherty, Sean McMullen, David Miller, Michael Salmon, Jo Thompson and me.

It was fantastic to see kids enthralled by books and coming to an event like this prepared with enthusiastic and informed questions for authors and illustrators.

A book quiz challenged the kids to work together and share their book knowledge to win a box full of books for their school – and all competitors attacked the task with enthusiasm.

Then Michael Salmon (pictured right with Phil Kettle) did an illustration demonstration that kept the kids mesmerised until it was time for JE Fison’s launch of her exciting new Hazard River Series.

It was great for me to catch up with fellow Boomerang Books Blogger, George Ivanoff from Literary Clutter – and of course the entire group of inspiring Children’s  authors and illustrators.

After the quiz and author chats with students, we all moved to the auditorium to watch Michael Salmon work his magic.

Then there was the sales and signings where students could buy their favourite Ford Street titles.

The Ford Street Literary Festival was a reminder that there are so many great ways to celebrate books and what they can bring to a child’s life.

The Myth of the Children’s Book (Part 1)

If you read up on these kinds of things, you’ll already have been aware that the Hugo Award nominees for 2010 have been announced. Among them the name ‘Shaun Tan’ sits merrily, in the category of ‘Best Professional Artist’ . And if you’ve been hiding under a different rock from the one Shaun Tan’s been propped on, he’s the artistic genius behind such books as Arrival, The Red Tree, and The Rabbits.  I love them to bits.

But I have a confession to make. All those listed above are often marketed as children’s picture books. And I’m an adult.

Do you remember the first book you ever read (or had read to you)? There’s definitely an early one that imprinted itself on my brain: There’s a Hippopotamus on our Roof Eating Cake. And sure, I know that partly the reason I have loved this book every time I have opened it since, is that nostalgia for my 80s childhood. Yet there’s another larger part of me that can’t even remember what the book’s about – it’s the illustrations themselves that continue to draw me in. At the ripe old age of 26 (newly turned) I am still in love with the pink and purple colour combination! Seeing pretty colours together in print gives me some sort of weird inner peace and I immediately feel calm, as if all is right with the world – such is the power of illustration.

Shaun Tan himself is a master at wielding the power– his pieces are often dark and disturbing. Consider his use of colour in The Rabbits (written in collaboration with John Marsden). It’s a dark yet sensitive story about colonisation from the perspective of the ‘colonised’. The twist is that the colonisers are bunny rabbits.

The Rabbits cover itself could be interpreted by a number of perspectives:  the preschooler (happy, bright reds and blues), the agonised teenager (colours of rage and oppression), or the professional art critic (colonial imperialism, environmental destruction and cultural discord)! Even Mr Tan himself believes that his picture books are intended mostly for an older audience. In ‘Picture Books: Who are they for?’, Tan comments:

We [all] like to look at things from unusual angles, attempt to seek some child-like revelation in the ordinary, and bring our imagination to the task of questioning everyday experience. Why are things the way they are? How might they be different?
…But is this an activity that ends with childhood, when at some point we are sufficiently qualified to graduate from one medium to another? Simplicity certainly does not exclude sophistication or complexity; we inherently know that the truth is otherwise. “Art,” as Einstein reminds us, “is the expression of the most profound thoughts in the simplest way.”

In response to anyone who believes an imagination is ‘children only’ domain, I would argue that imagination never stops. An ‘innocent’ imagination transforms into a ‘critical’ imagination with age and experience, giving us the ability to explore abstract concepts and see them as capable of many meanings.

Having said all this, I don’t even want to PRETEND to think that there’s some ‘hidden meaning’ to that purple hippopotamus on the roof eating the pink cake. I think it’s a safe bet (though I could be wrong!) that for the little girl in the story, there really was a hippopotamus on the roof. And that’s it. If I probed very deep with my ‘psychology fingers’, there might be something to be said about the wider human need to create invisible friends to be different, or to be understood, or to never be alone. But really, my attraction to the book can be witnessed through the lullaby rhythm of the words and the pink and purple pictures. Plain and simple.

A continuous look back to the picture books of your early years, similar to the study of academic history, can reveal new things each time. To me, it’s the truest magic you can find in this world – a fantasy in reality, you might say. Perhaps for you, it will be a gentle meditation on a childhood lived. Perhaps it will reveal something about the person you are now. But if all you feel like seeing is the happy colours and playful words, then that’s ok too. No adult, no matter how old, smart or busy they are, should lose the urge to play.


Hazels Edwards‘ new picture book, Plato the Platypus Plumber (Part-time) is the story of a platypus who is also a part time plumber. Plato is the imaginary friend of a young boy called Zanzibar who has all sorts of things that need fixing around his home.

On call, Plato fixes watery problems like leaking taps, but he also fixes grumpy people. From his tool kit, he uses smile spray, a feather or a joke. The book is beautifully illustrated by John Petropoulos.

Hazel says her original idea was to create a story with two things that don’t usually go together. The story was originally an idea for a TV series about Zanzibar and his adventures.

Plato the Platypus Plumber (Part-time) was launched recently at Pasir Ridge International School in Indonesia. Hazel has agreed to share the experience with us.

Reading Plato at launch with Pasir Ridge Children

How did the school prepare for the launch?

Meg Baxter, the Early Childhood teacher and her enthusiastic staff  had organised a special ‘mud’ cake iced with a replica of the cover as well as ‘muddy’ chocolate milk. SFX of water noises. Charts of platypus facts, and even an story house, surrounded by recycled branches (in the spirit of the story) with an author  chair for the ‘first’ reading. To the side was a ‘creek’ with platypus shapes.

The children had all created their own plumber tool kits in mini cases. Teachers had prepared the children well.

What else was unique about the preparations?

There were platypus prints leading into the room and up to the pile of  Plato the Platypus Plumber (part-time) books.

Can you tell us about the author signing?

International school children have names from many cultures. And that can be a challenge when you are autographing. A first edition book should be dated as well as signed by the author and illustrator, (but he was back in Melbourne)

So Indonesian teachers helped with typed slips of children’s names for autographing. Many are KTC s  Kids of the Third Culture, where parents may be nationals of different countries and the child born or schooled in a third.  But stories cross all cultures.

Sounds like the teachers were very resourceful, Hazel. And in your book, Plato helps Zanzibar to develop these same kind of problem-solving abilities. Why do you think it’s important for children to have these skills?

Being willing to try new ways of solving problems, even if you get it wrong occasionally, is the only way we learn. It’s okay to do things differently.

What was your favourite part of the launch?

For me the special pleasure was that once I’d talked about how a book was also created by the reader from the clues given by the illustrator and the author,  the children sprawled on the rug and all read the book for themselves.

‘Mine is the first Plato book signed in the whole world,’ said one little boy as he sat down to read.

Thanks for sharing this wonderful experience with us, Hazel.

Find out more about Plato the fixer and eco-warrior at


Hazel Edwards talks gender and pronouns

I always wanted to launch Perpetually Adolescent with a big-name author, and names don’t get much bigger than Hazel Edwards’. All you have to do is mention something about a hippopotamus on the roof eating cake, and everyone (or at least, everyone my age) will let out an “Oh!” of recognition – for those that didn’t “Oh!”, this is the book I’m talking about. Hazel’s latest, a collaboration with Ryan Scott Kennedy, f2m: The Boy Within is really making waves, so I invited her to pop around and talk about… well… anything really, it’s Hazel Edwards, she can do whatever she likes :-).

I always love it when authors talk ‘process’, and there’s no more painstaking part of the process than blurbing, distilling what you feel is a perfect 70,000+ piece of work into a tidy 100 words that make sense, are inviting, but not misleading. It’s challenging, to say the least, and things get a little trickier when your book covers the transition of one person between genders, and you’ve got pronouns to worry about…

Gender, blurbs and (pesky) pronouns

Being a mainstream author, a major challenge of writing YA fiction with a transgender setting (and punk music),  is the pronouns. Can I use ‘teenager’ or ‘sibling’ or ‘adolescent’ instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’ to avoid character inaccuracies or offending some readers?

Even the title has been a challenge. ‘ftm’ is the correct medical term for transitioning from female to male (‘mtf’ is male to female), but ‘f2m’ is our term for OUR collaboration… the sub-title ‘the boy within’ indicates the dilemma.

Pronouns are a new language challenge. And getting the tense right. Was Finn always male? Past? Present? Future?

Even drafting a blurb for the cover, having to move from 18-year-old Skye as ‘she’ to Finn as ‘he’, in the one sentence, can trivialise. Transitioning gender is still controversial and the facts are little known. Transitioning has been a taboo subject until recent media coverage of sportspeople.

This was my first, unsuccessful blurbing effort:

A young school-leaver transitions from a girl into a man and uncovers long-buried mysteries about her family heritage that threaten to tear her family apart!

But ‘her’ isn’t accurate later in the novel.

Strictly speaking, our fictional character is a trans guy and has always considered himself male. So has my trans co-author Ryan Kennedy.

I have no problem now using the male pronoun for my co-author.

I’ve known Ryan as a family friend since he was an 11 year old girl. New Zealand-based Ryan lived as female until his transition to male at 27. Ryan works in IT and is a passionate environmentalist and musician.

Our co-written  f2m: The Boy Within has taken 40+ drafts, to complete the 70,000 word novel, but the process of collaboration has been very satisfying.

We co-wrote across 18 months, two continents (Australia and New Zealand), two generations and two genders. We plotted via Skype and webcam.

Our second shot at the blurb:

All adolescents face the quest for identity, but gender change complicates ‘coming of age’ for Finn. Gender change is not just about hormone injections and surgery.

Our third:

School-leaver Skye plays guitar in her all-female Chronic Cramps band. Making her name in the punk/indie scene is easier than FTM (female to male) transitioning: from Skye to Finn, from girl to man. Uncovering genetic mysteries about family heritage tear the family apart. Trans gender identity is more than injections and surgery, it’s about acceptance. Going public, Finn sings ftm lyrics on TV. With a little help from bemused mates and family who don’t want to lose a daughter, but who love their teenager, Finn is transitioning.

Our FINAL blurb:

What happens when who you are on the inside, clashes with what you are on the outside?

Our book is fiction, not autobiography, but medically accurate. Could also make a great film! Casting could be the next challenge.

– Hazel Edwards