London-based writer Katherine Rundell has sprung into prominence with her children’s novels in recent times. She has just written two more books and one is a sumptuous Christmas picture book, One Christmas Wish, illustrated by Emily Sutton (Bloomsbury). It draws on many nostalgic and loved Christmas images, such as being with family and decorating the tree.
One Christmas Wish begins on Christmas Eve with Theo sorting out the Christmas decorations. He finds four unexpected and dilapidated pieces: a rocking horse, a robin, a tin soldier and an angel. His parents are out working and his new babysitter has fallen asleep with her phone but Theo sees a shooting star and wishes to not be alone. The four decorations seem to come to life and offer to help Theo with whatever he needs. However, the decorations all need something themselves, such as the robin remembering how to sing and the soldier needing someone to love and protect. The heart of Christmas is reached when they find a nativity scene in the town square and Theo’s Christmas wish comes true soon after.
The illustrations invite you into the scenes, particularly those with full bleeds to the pages’ edges such as in Mrs Goodyere’s cosy room where she teaches the robin to sing Away in a Manger and the snowy wood where Theo and the others search for feathers to replenish the angel’s wings.
The Explorer (illustrated by Hannah Horn; published by Bloomsbury) is Katherine Rundell’s other new book and it is a rollicking adventure for primary children set in the Amazon after Fred’s small plane crashes. Two girls about his age, Con and Lila, and five-year-old Max also survive. They rescue a baby sloth, raid a bee-hive, make a raft and find a map. They resolve to venture to where the X on the map is located. Disconcertingly, there are signs that someone else has lived in the jungle too.
There is some depth in the narrative, particularly as the children undergo rites of passage. Even though their existence is difficult, at times Fred seems pleased not to be living a humdrum life: “At school, it’s the same thing, every day. I liked that it might be all right to believe in large, mad, wild things.”
The Explorer is inspired by Eva Ibbotson’s Journey to the River Sea, and these two novels do share a similar sense of adventure and freedom.
And thank you for blogging me. It’s blogging exciting to be here.
Where are you based and what is your background?
I’m in Sydney and have a background in documentary and TV. I also do copywriting and write for an educational publisher.
What sort of music do you like and do you play any instruments?
What sort of music don’t I like might be an easier question to answer. There’s not really any types of music I don’t get into. Well except Opera and music that involves men dancing in long socks with bells attached. Struggle with that a little.
Basically I like good music. And a lot of bad music too come to think of it! I just like music.
But I don’t play myself.
I think Dr Boogaloo & The Girl Who Lost Her Laughter is my love letter to music. It expresses all my pent up love which I can’t express by playing an instrument. Kitchen dancing keeps it in check most of the time but sometimes it just needs to come out.
What have you learned about the importance of music?
I believe humans are musical beings. It’s an intrinsic part of who we are. We need music.
What led to you writing a children’s novel?
I started writing for children when I had my own. I kept getting ideas for books and when they slept I would rush upstairs to the attic and try to write. Unfortunately all my children were terrible sleepers so my output is hardly prodigious. Hard to write a book in 45 minutes. But I’m on a roll now!
Could you tell us about ten-year-old Blue, her horrible mother and some other characters?
Ah the lovely Blue. I’m very fond of Blue. She has a quiet strength and she tries to keep her chin up no matter how hard things get. She’s not one to complain – unlike her awful mother. Blue’s mother is somewhat self-obsessed. She thinks having a daughter who can’t laugh is an absolute bummer! It’s ruining her life and simply must be fixed. If not she plans on shipping her off to a boarding school in Switzerland somewhere. One of those ones where they don’t come home in the holidays. Costs a bit more but well worth it obviously, under the circumstances.
Now, let me introduce you to the wonderful Dr Boogaloo and his glorious wife Bessie. They run The Boogaloo Family Clinic of Musical Cures. You may not have ever thought of music as medicine but according to the Boogaloos, music can cure anything!
Of course, you need the right dose of the right music. No point listening to a jive if you’re in need of some boogie-woogie, and you can’t just substitute a hum for a chant, or an opera for a ballad, or a toot for a blow. Absolutely not! Musical medicine is an exact art. And it’s extraordinarily complicated. The way Dr Boogaloo explains it is this – everyone has their own tune but sometimes, for one reason or other, we get all out of tune. We lose the beat, you might say. Unfortunately, your tune is just like your fingerprint. No two are the same. Which is why fixing tunes is SUCH a tricky business!
Dr Boogaloo describes Bessie as the magic in his wand and it’s true they are a great team. Dr Boogaloo reminds me a bit of a brand new pencil – he’s very straight ahead – which is perhaps not what you would expect for a musical doctor. Bessie on the other hand is a little more eccentric. She reminds me of a rainbow caught up inside a tornado. Bessie looks after the Doctor’s instrument collection which is so enormous they keep it in a shed about as big as an A380 aircraft hanger.
I particularly enjoyed Blue’s introduction to the Snorkel Porkel Crumpety Worpel Laughter Clinic. Could you tell us about how people enter it and about some of the Laughter Detection Tests?
Well entry is via a giant slide with a vertical drop that would make your nose bleed – hence the need for padded pants to avoid a really good buttock burn –followed by the the tickle machine which helps sort out the wheat from the chaff in terms of laughter issues. Then, once you get past the lobby guy who has a seriously good aim when it comes to snot olives, you’re off to the testing rooms. They are very thorough at the Snorkel Porkel. There are not many places they won’t venture to ensure an accurate diagnosis. Can we just say, strange animal farts, blooper reels, hula-hooping cats in bikinis, Youtube videos of epic fails and a gentleman called Gassy Gus who can blow up balloons with his bottom! You did ask!
Music is important in your novel but what about colour?
Well Blue’s mother has a thing for colour. She goes through colour ‘phases’. You can probably guess what ‘phase’ she was in when she named Blue ‘Blue’. At this point in time, she’s in a white phase. Phases generally involve a lot of shopping, redecorating and pouring over paint charts. Blue is finding her mother’s white phase particularly challenging. Absolutely everything in the house is white so even finding the fridge can be quite tricky. There’s a lot of falling over the couch, that sort of thing.
Could you tell us about the role of musical imperfection?
Well I can only tell you what I’ve learnt from my time at The Boogaloo Family Clinic of Musical Cures but according to Dr Boogaloo, imperfection is an essential ingredient in any musical cure. One of the many musicians who work’s regularly at the clinic is a Canadian called Neil. He’s famous for the perfect bum note or loose string and exactly when to drop one in. Quite a skill.
Have you paid homage to any other authors in your plot, setting or characters?
Not authors so much but songwriters and songs seem to be scattered about the place. That’s my silly love thing again. You don’t need to get the musical references to enjoy the story – I’m sure most of the kids won’t – but if you’re a music fan reading to your kids, hopefully they might amuse you. Some are obvious, others not. For example, Blue’s globetrotting, game-hunting father sends her a pair of high heels covered in diamonds. There’s even diamonds on the soles! And of course Bessie would name her pet pygmy pocket possums after some of her favourite singers – Dolly & Makeba. Tupelo trees, weeping songs, I’m wearing my musical heart on my sleeve I’m afraid….
Are you planning anything special for the book launch?
Of course. Blue’s mother’s favourite – bubbles. And my favourite – music. We have Gramophone Man coming along to play some very old tunes on his steam-powered turntables. That should give most people’s musical immune systems a jolly good boost before the silly season begins.
What are you writing about now or next?
My next book is called The Crumples of Shambolstown. It’s about some very crumpled folks who live next to some very Crisp folks. A gang of Crumple kids venture into Cripsville and things go very, very wrong. It’s a crumply thriller!
In an illustrious and diverse career in children’s books Australian author Janeen Brian has written across genres and forms. Her books span novels, series, picture books and non-fiction.
Thank you for speaking with Boomerang Blog, Janeen.
Thank you very much for inviting me.
Where are you based, what is your background and how are you involved in Australia’s children’s literature community?
Home for me is in a seaside town called Glenelg in South Australia, about twenty minutes from Adelaide. Originally a primary and junior primary teacher, who worked for some years in a small school library, I began writing for pleasure some time in my thirties, having not ever considered writing before. My career, although I didn’t know it at the time, began when I was lucky enough to start writing for an educational publisher. Since then, I have written over a hundred books, which include educational titles.
Writing communities and Writers’ Centres were thin on the ground when I began, so when a group of children’s writers, calling themselves Ekidnas, and a Writers’ Centre was formed in Adelaide, I felt lucky to suddenly find myself among like-minded people. It was probably a turning point for me. I am still involved in Ekidnas, and am a member of SA Writers’ Centre, ASA, IBBY, SCWBI, SBCASA Branch and was, up until recently, on the selection panel for The May Gibbs’ Children’s Literature Trust Fellowships in South Australia. I’m also an Ambassador for the Little Big Book Club (Raising Literacy Australia) and the Premier’s Reading Challenge.
How have you been mentored by the Australian book industry? Are you able to mentor others in the industry?
There is no doubt in my mind that any workshop, festival, reading or other type of literature event I’ve ever attended has had an impact on me. And nourished me. So that would be my experience of industry mentoring. Plus I was fortunate to win a Carclew Fellowship (Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature) in 2012, which was a type of financial mentoring!
My own mentoring would be in the form of workshops and author visits to schools or libraries. However, I once mentored a lady who was interested in picture books, in a one-on-one situation.
Who publishes your books and which illustrators have you enjoyed collaborating with?
I am published with a wide variety of publishers, and one reason for that might be that I write across a broad range of genres. My publishers include Penguin Random House Australia, Allen & Unwin, Walker Books, Scholastic, Omnibus Books, National Library of Australia, Little Hare/Hardie Grant Publishing, Five Mile Press/Bonnier Publishing Australia and most recently, Little Book Press (Raising Literacy Australia).
Could you give us a retrospective of some of your most important or popular books? (please include novels, series, picture books and non-fiction)
I think Pilawuk–When I was Young (published by ERA Publications) is an enduring information books for teachers and in classrooms because at the time of writing it was one of the earliest titles about The Stolen Generation. It also was an Honour Award winner with CBCA.
Another Honour book, published in 2001, was the very popular picture book, Where does Thursday go? (illustrated by Stephen Michael King and published by Margaret Hamilton Books/Scholastic Australia). It’s since been published in UK, translated into 11 other countries and recently enjoyed yet another reprint.
Although now out of print (although I have since had it reprinted and handle distribution), the Honour award winning information book, Hoosh! Camels in Australia was an important book to research and was widely acclaimed. (Since translated into Arabian)
I’m also an award-winning poet. I also enjoy writing verse at times and Silly Galah! (illustrated by Cheryll Johns and published by Omnibus/Scholastic) is still a popular book, featuring humorous, informative verses about Australian animals and birds. Its recent follow-up is Silly Squid! by the same illustrator and publisher, which highlights Australia’s sea life.
My two dinosaur picture books, I’m a dirty dinosaur and I’m a hungry dinosaur (illustrated by Ann James and published by Penguin Random Australia) have been runaway successes. The former won an Honour Award, was Winner of 2014 Speech Pathology Awards of Australia and is the book selected for many Early Childhood Reading programs, targeting families, nationwide. (eg. First 5 Forever in Queensland) It’s also been published in China. The latter was a Notable Award.
What awards have they been shortlisted for or won?
I have been shortlisted or won Notable awards for other titles including, Eddie Pipper, Where’s Jessie? and Little Chicken, chickabee.
How do you keep your non-fiction so interesting?
Thank you for that kind comment.
Because I read less non-fiction than fiction, I’m aware that in order to interest certain readers, I first have to interest myself. Over the years I’ve come to believe, that factual information which is written in a more narrative or story-like style is more accessible and interesting for readers such as me. I also try to include fascinating details, using the child-in-me to help decide which to choose.
I know that good books often inexplicably go out of print. Which of your books have stayed in print for a long time? Which haven’t? How have you tried to keep any of your books in print? Is there anything we can do to keep good books in print (apart from buying them)?
That’s an interesting question and one which is out of the author’s control. A publisher determines the when and why a title will not be reprinted. The bottom line is usually sales figures. Many of my educational titles are out of print, but many also remain in print. Often educational and trade publishers change focus or decide to drop a series. Apart from Hoosh! Camels in Australia, which I now reprint and distribute, all other titles mentioned above are still in print. Constant promotion, seeking out niche markets, looking to digital printing and reprinting through Print on Demand are a few ways to potentially keep good books out in reader-land. The creator must work in collaboration with the publisher or look at alternative publishing ideas to keep their book afloat.
Do you give many presentations to children? How do you make them interesting? Have there been any particularly memorable responses?
Like many children’s writers who’ve been publishing over a number of years (for me, approximately thirty-five years) I’ve given thousands of presentations. I like to be super-prepared, have lots of artefacts, objects, interactive ideas to get the children involved, puppets, songs, creating rhymes, music or rhythm making, choral chanting, dress-ups, role-play, visual material, and nowadays, powerpoints. It all depends on the age-group of the children I’m presenting to. I ALWAYS read to the children. That is a given. And I include poetry reading too. Often we’ll act out one of my poems as I read it. I believe strongly that when an author reads their own work to an audience, a little bit of magic comes out in the words.
One memorable situation wasn’t a presentation as such, but it has always stayed with me. A Year 7 boy in a co-ed college in Adelaide won a competition for a piece of his writing.
He decided to spend part of his prize-winnings purchasing an extra copy of my book, Where does Thursday go? for the school library, because it had been his favourite book when he was young.
If that was not enough, the teacher-librarian invited the boy, his family, all the library monitors and me to a beautiful morning tea. And I read the book aloud to the boy, and all who were seated at the table. How I got through the reading without crying, I’ll never know. But there were tears in the librarian’s eyes.
Are you aware of any progression in your books – writing style, intended reader, subjects addressed …
I think the one of the biggest lessons I learned was that if you have the desire, the passion and the tough skin to write, that it is a craft – and therefore can be improved.
The strange thing was that I had never in my wildest dreams set out to be a writer. I loved reading. And I loved reading other people’s books. I enjoyed English at school, but there was never any huge encouragement or spark in me that urged me to become an author. So learning was and still is, a big factor in my writing life.
At first I enjoyed writing picture books, poetry and short fiction. And I’ve written over 200 poems, stories, plays and articles for The School Magazine, but of late, I’ve extended my writing loves to include novels. I have also written several teenage short stories for specific anthologies, and although I enjoy writing short stories, my preferred age group is younger, babies to upper primary.
What are you writing about now or next?
I was overseas for four months of this year, returning in July, and while I was away I wrote several poems. The School Magazine has already accepted one. I have also finished a picture book and the first draft of a children’s novel. I’ve sent the picture book to my agent but the novel is safely under lock and key so I don’t look at it for a month. I have a tendency, or bad habit, to send out texts too early!
What have you enjoyed reading recently?
Lots of lovely books including:
A re-reading of Because of Winn-Dixie (Kate diCamillo)
A Cardboard Palace ( Allayne Webster)
Fabish: The Horse that Braved a Bushfire (Neridah McMullin)
Running Wild (Michael Morpurgo)
Girl with a Pearl Earring (Tracy Chevalier)
The War that Saved my Life ( Kimberly Brubaker Bradley)
Coraline (Neil Gaiman)
Anything else you’d like to add?
Two things I’ve learned along the way:
Finding your own voice and style takes time, a lot of writing and a lot of rejections.
Everybody has different writing interests.
Everybody writes differently.
Everybody chooses whether to plot OR to free-wheel-write as a ‘pantser’ OR use a combination of both.
Writers often go about writing each book differently.
Thanks Janeen, and all the best with your wonderful books.
Brisbane Writers Festivalhas had a new lease of life with the appointment of CEO and Artistic Director, Zoe Pollock for the festival’s 55th anniversary. The festival was about “The big stories – and the little ones in between” and the biggest story of them all was probably the recognition of Indigenous literature and creators, particularly the tenth anniversary of Alexis Wright’s novel Carpentaria, which won the Miles Franklin award. This was uniquely celebrated as an immersive dramatic and visual performance inside “Angel’s Palace”, a specially constructed “art-tent”, designed by Gordon Hookey.
The opening address was given by Alec Doomadgee, who spoke about “Indigenous knowledge creation”. He showed excerpts from his seminal film Zach’s Ceremony. Alec said that “reading books gives you a real history of the country you’re in”. He uses the arts and culture to tell stories and create change and urged us all to go away and do something for change. My family has something planned …
I was fortunate to moderate a panel session about “Connecting to Place” which explored how three authors create place as a character (or not – as we discovered) in their stories.
Melissa Lukashenko spoke about the significance of land in her beautifully written, award-winning novel Mullumbimby. Ashley Hay let us look inside a special Brisbane house, peopled over time by two vulnerable women whose lives interconnect. Her novel, A Hundred Small Lessons, has just been shortlisted for the Queensland Literary awards. Kate Mildenhall’s debut novel, Skylarking, was one of my best books of 2016 for the Weekend Australian. It is set on a windswept, isolated cape and is a fine piece of writing about friendship between two young women. Kate is destined for big things in the literary world if she continues to write at such a high level.
I also attended a session about the Australian book industry, “Published in Oz”. It was exciting to hear how writing and reading is the biggest art form that people engage with in Australia. 20% of Australians attend a book event annually and Australia has the highest per capita attendance at writers’ festivals in the world. Reading books is the number 1 favourite leisure activity of Australians. Double the number of Australians enjoy reading books to attending sporting events, playing video games or other pursuits. Australia also has the world’s top independent bookseller market.
Another enlightening session was a workshop for adults on visual literacy by James Foley. He has illustrated Sigi Cohen’s, My Dead Bunny, The Last Vikingby Norman Jorgensen and other books.
The BWF also hosted “Word Play” an outstanding program for young people. My highlight was hearing Wendy Orr, author of the Nim’s Island series (the genesis of the movies), Peeling the Onion and the masterful historical fantasy based on the Minoan myths of bull-dancing, Dragonfly Song. This novel has also just been shortlisted for the Queensland Literary awards.
Thanks to the organisers of the 2017 BWF and to those involved. There was a very special buzz in Brisbane.
Take Three Girls (Pan Macmillan Australia)is a brilliant new novel written by three prominent Australian YA authors, Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood, each the creator of their own notable, highly acclaimed novels.
I’m thrilled that all three authors join us on the blog.
How did you meet and could you tell us something that surprises you about your co-authors?
CATH: I met Simmone on a road trip to a Lowther Hall writing camp. I didn’t have a car, and she gave me a lift. We talked all the way. I met Fiona when Pan Macmillan published the brilliant Six Impossible Things.
I am not surprised by their talent, but I’m in awe of it. I’m always surprised by their descriptions in writing. I read them and wonder how they came up with such beautiful sentences.
SIMMONE: Fiona and I met when we were both working on TV show The Secret Life of Us. I was Script Coordinator, she was writing an episode. I really liked her episode. Also, she shared her sandwich with me!
FIONA: Simmone introduced me to Cath, and she also suggested I show my manuscript for Six Impossible Things to her publisher, Pan Macmillan. I’m not exactly surprised any more but still impressed that both Cath and Simmone are such lateral creative thinkers. I’m much more inclined to choose a path and stay on it, while Cath and Simmone will more readily take a detour or write a new section of the map – so I love that; I need more of that in my writing practice.
Whose idea was the book and how could you consider putting aside writing time that could have been used for your own books to write Take Three Girls together?
CATH: We all wanted to write together. (At least, that’s how I remember it.) I was thrilled to be writing with two of my favourite authors. Take Three Girls took a long time because we were always able to put aside the joint book to work on our own projects.
SIMMONE: I can’t even remember which of us said we should write the book. I think we all laughed and then had a moment of, wait, YES! It was good to work on the book because it was contracted, and because it was fun. When I’m mid-way through writing a novel (as I always seem to be) any distraction will do. The writing of Take Three Girls was much easier than my current WIP maybe because the investment was split three ways.
FIONA: It was lovely to break from the usual solitude of writing. We agreed that we’d never put pressure on each other to put this project first – it had to fit around our other writing deadlines. If you build that in as a condition of the collaboration, then delays are not a problem. And we also said that our friendship comes first: if it stops being enjoyable, or it causes any friction, then we drop it. You do hear the occasional horror story of collaborations going wrong, but we weren’t going to let that happen.
It seems that this novel has been a long time coming. I first heard of its existence through the Leading Edge Books conference several years ago and have been waiting with great (and completely fulfilled) expectation. Why has it taken until now to reach us?
CATH: It has taken a long time! We agreed to let each other work on individual projects. (So Words in Deep Blue slowed us down!) But also, it takes time to write in collaboration. There’s a lot more talk, planning, juggling, rewriting.
SIMMONE: None of us stopped writing on other projects. It wasn’t like we could rip six months out of the calendar and work exclusively on the book. We refused to let it be a stressful exercise because that would have defeated the purpose, which was in some to give us each some relief from our own personal book hells.
FIONA: It definitely took longer than we had originally anticipated, but that has ended up being a strength. We had longer to develop and live with and get to know our characters, and the story itself evolved in ways it probably wouldn’t have if we’d had a clear run at writing it and finishing it more quickly. It took just as long to write as an individual novel because it’s not just a matter of dividing the work three ways, rather, you are engaging in an extended creative process of listening and responding to two other writers as you shape a world and story and themes together.
Where does the title come from?
SIMMONE: Just a little bit inspired by the 1960s UK TV show. The book was originally called Friends Anonymous, but then we found a dating website with the same name so had a rethink and did a bit of a poll.
Probably like all your readers, I was trying to guess who wrote which character – Clem, Kate and Ady – while I was reading (and I occasionally wondered if you were trying to put us off track by using some of each other’s signature traits). And the warmth and understanding makes me think you also have fallen in love with each other’s characters. Maybe you each wrote one character and then added to the other characters…
How did you collaborate on the writing process? Are you going to reveal who wrote what?
SIMMONE: Ha! I don’t know about Cath and Fiona but I can’t really write like anyone but myself. I think we are pretty simpatico writers though … I wrote Clem, Cath wrote Kate, Fiona wrote Ady.
FIONA: One of the things that made our process very writer-friendly was that we each created a character – and wrote that character, and did all the plotting together. And we divided up the Wellness work sheets and PSST posts. So we developed an initial overall narrative outline and talked through our character arcs at a weekend away, then we would do further plotting and planning, chapter by chapter, go away and write our own characters, come together and read, talk, rethink, refine, replot. I think our writing styles do sit comfortably together, and we loved spending time with these three characters. And yes, I absolutely fell in love with Clem and Kate.
One of the characters, Kate, plays cello. How do you know so much about cello and loop-based performance?
CATH: I had some help! My niece, Esther, plays the cello. She told me about the double stops. ☺ But I adore Zoe Keating. If I could have any talent, I would be able to play like her. She stops my heart.
Ady is regarded as ‘Queen Bitch, according to school folklore’. She is much more than she seems (like the other girls) and is surprisingly perceptive about others. How do you show this?
FIONA: Because Ady is an artist, it felt natural to give her that perceptive quality: she really looks, really notices. I show that in her thoughts, and we offer the reader a dislocation between what Ady is thinking, and how others perceive her. Because our structure includes Wellness journal entries for each character this allowed me to give readers extra glimpses of how Ady’s understanding of Kate and Clem changes over the course of the narrative, for example.
Clem recognises that most girls are trying to be perfect. Why is she able to step away from looking svelte from swimming?
SIMMONE: I think she has a moment where she realises that she will never look how she wants to look, or how she thinks she’s supposed to look, and that there has to be more to her, and that there is more to her.
I love when the girls talk about their perfect days late in the novel. Kate’s is ‘writing music and playing music’, Ady’s is ‘playing with fabrics, dreaming up clothes that don’t look like other stuff’ and then Max cuts in to say her thousand perfect days ‘all involve books and movies and music’.
What are your perfect days?
CATH: My perfect day is filled with nothing – so there’s space to dream and write.
SIMMONE: My perfect days sees me far away, maybe seeing in real life something I’ve only read about.
FIONA: Mine would include a long sleep-in, a walk, some writing, some reading, some food, some solitude, and some family and friends time.
Thank you all for this wondrous YA novel about surprising friendship.
Pip Harry is the author of three Australian YA novels, I’ll Tell You Mine; Head of theRiver, an unflinching look at elite school rowing,and now, Because of You which gives insight into people living on the streets.
Where are you based and what is your current role, Pip?
Currently I am based in steamy Singapore, where my family has been living for the past 18 months on an expat adventure. I had an earlier stint here when I was six years old … it’s changed a bit since then! I love the warm weather, the proximity to Asia for quick trips to exotic destinations and the food is so good. Satay, noodles, chilli crab, dumplings, I could go on!
How involved are you in Australia’s YA community?
I’m actively and passionately involved in Australia’s YA community, even from my Singapore outpost! Through the #LoveOzYA movement – which aims to promote local content to local readers – I’ve been swept up in support and love for Aussie YA. Wherever possible I review or promote other #LoveOzYA releases. We are one big YA family.
Could you tell us about your earlier books?
In 2012, I released my debut novel, I’ll Tell You Mine, about a goth teenager sent to a strict girl’s boarding school. In 2014, I followed up with Head of the River, about siblings competing in the high stakes annual school rowing race and putting it all on the line to win.
Why is your new novel Because of You (UQP) important?
It’s important because it offers younger readers the opportunity to understand and emphasise with the daily struggles of street people. Many teenagers have little or no contact with the homeless community, except perhaps walking past them on the street, but this book tells their stories, reminds readers that it could happen to any one of us, and offers hope for change.
Could you tell us about your major characters, Tiny and Nola?
Tiny, 18, is sleeping rough and has fled her rural town for the city. Nola, 17, is drifting through her final year at school, unsure of her path in life or her friendships. When Nola is assigned to do 20 days of mandatory community service at a homeless shelter’s creative writing program, the girls meet and form a friendship that will change both their lives.
You have a cast of minor characters who help create the community setting. Who most pulls at your heart and why?
One of the things I loved most about writing Because of You was the supporting cast of characters. The one who captured my heart was Meredith, who runs the Street Library. I love her belief that “books can save anyone, if they’re the right ones,” and her passion to bring stories to the streets.
My son cooks burgers for the homeless in Sydney. What would you suggest ordinary Australians do for the homeless?
Does he? That’s so fantastic! There is so much ordinary Australian’s can do to lend a hand in the homeless community, from serving food in soup kitchens to supporting creative workshops or offering your time and skills in other ways. Check out govolunteer.com.au for opportunities in your area.
What hope do you see for Australia’s homeless in the near future?
It’s easy to get discouraged about the homeless crisis when tent cities are being dismantled and figures for homelessness are rising. But my hope is that we can take national action to end homelessness in this country through supporting our homeless organisations and investing in affordable, stable and permanent public housing.
Why have you incorporated Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief and Cath Crowley’s Graffiti Moon into Because of You?
Those books are incredible and they’re written by Australian authors I admire, so I wanted my characters to read and adore them too!
What have you been reading recently?
I’ve been reading the chilling, ghostly Ballad for a Mad Girl by the brilliant Vikki Wakefield and I’m in awe of the backwards narrative in Everything is Changed by Nova Weetman. I really liked the passion and rawness of Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur.
Thanks very much, Pip, and all the best with Because of You.
Thanks for speaking to Boomerang Books blog, Jules and especially for your amazing bespoke Boomerang blog cartoon featured at the top of this interview.
Have you met Alex Ratt, the author of The Stinky Street Stories (PanMacmillan)? If so, what did Alex smell like?
I have met Alex Ratt and she smelled of success and lollipops.
Your illustrations for The Stinky Street Stories 1 & 2 add lots of wicked fun to Alex Ratt’s (aka Frances Watts) words. Which story did you particularly enjoy illustrating and why?
I think I had the most fun drawing Smelly Birthday To Me because I could draw a lot of animals, which I really like to draw.
How do you describe your style of illustration in these books?
Simplistic cartoons designed to highlight the funniest parts of the text (and there are lots of funniest parts!)
What else have you illustrated? How was your style different in these?
I’ve illustrated David Warner’s Kaboom Kid series, Michael Pryor’s Leo Da Vinci series, Damean Posner’s Helix and the Arrival, Andy Jones’s Awesome Book of Rap, Rhyme and Poetry and the Cat and Dog Stories series of short stories. Sometimes I just draw in my usual style but sometimes, as in the Kaboom Kid series, I re-imagine my style to better suit the story. It’s always important to make lead characters look very different from characters in my other books.
Have you met Anh Do, author of WeirDo, another series you’re illustrating? If so, what was your impression of him?
I’ve met Anh, yeah. He’s great fun and just as funny as he is on TV.
What work did you do for Disney?
I worked on a show called The Proud Family in the Background and Layout Department.
What awards have you won?
We won Book of the Year at the Australian Book Industry Awards for the first Weirdo and we’ve won three Honours Awards for Weirdo, Weirdo 3 and Weirdo 5 at the KOALAs.
I’ve also won three Rotary Cartoon Awards for my comic strip MiBraine.
What books have you enjoyed reading recently?
I just re-read a fantastic book called Ready Player One about future life inside a 3D videogame. The movie comes out next year and I’m really looking forward to it.
Could you do a quick drawing for us at Boomerang Books Blog? It could be a sketch of Brian from the Stinky Street Stories encountering Boomerang Books Blog or whatever you wish.
And here it is!
Thank you so much for your answers and cartoon, Jules, and we look forward to seeing more of your inimitable work.
Stinky Street Stories 2 available 12th September 2017.
Claire Zorn stands out again with her extraordinary One Would Think the Deep (University of Queensland Press). She won both CBCA Older Readers’ category and the Prime Minister’s Literary Award with her previous novel, The Protected. One Would Think the Deep is set in the 1990s and submerges the music of this era into the struggles of Sam who is suffering from grief and rage after the death of his mother. The authoritative evocations of the ocean and surfing reflect his passion.
Congratulations also to the highly accomplished honour books in this category. They are both also remarkable and world class: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley (Pan Macmillan Australia) and The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon (Hachette Australia). I’ve written more about this impeccable trio of novels previously, as well as about the shortlisted books in this category.
I am also very excited by the Book of the Year: Early Childhood winner, Go Home, Cheeky Animals! (Allen & Unwin) written by Johanna Bell and illustrated by Indigenous man, Dion Beasley. It is such a cheeky, joy-filled story; perfectly structured. The illustrator also sells his work in the form of t-shirts and other merchandise on his website.
The honour books in this category are also excellent examples of texts for young children. Nannie Loves by Kylie Dunstan (Working Title Press) has nostalgic-looking but bright tissue-paper collages and Gary by Leila Rudge (Walker Books) is an ingeniously structured tale about a homing pigeon who can’t fly. I’ve written more about the Early Childhood books for the blog here.
Another picture book with appeal to young readers won Picture Book of the Year. Home in the Rain (Walker Books) is Bob Graham’s seventh CBCA win. He is a maestro and this book equals his magnificent best even though it takes place in the unlikely setting of a car in the rain.
The Picture Book honour books are written by the affable and inventive Lance Balchin with Mechanica (The Five Mile Press) and talented writer for a range of ages and genres, Maxine Beneba Clarke with The Patchwork Bike (Hachette Australia). Van T Rudd has expressed movement and community in his street art inspired illustrations of the bike and its creators. I’ve written more about these books here and elsewhere in the blog, including how to share the books with children.
Book of the Year: Younger Readers has been won by Trace Balla’s entertaining and comprehensive depiction of a trip through the Grampians in Rockhopping (Allen & Unwin). Honour books are Wendy Orr’s masterful, myth-inspired novel Dragonfly Song (Allen & Unwin) and the comical Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers Third Grade written by Kate & Jol Temple and illustrated by John Foye (which completes the A&U triumvirate of winners in this category). I’ve written previously about the books for younger readers here and elsewhere in the blog.
Emily Rodda is indisputably one of Australia’s best writers and she is also acclaimed around the globe. Many of her works, of which I have a large collection in my bookshelf, are contemporary classics where she conjures magical worlds based in both reality and fantasy that resonate with all young people and kindle their imaginations.
I can’t overstate her gifts and importance to countless children’s (and adults’) lives and am unbelievably excited that she has agreed to speak to Boomerang Books Blog.
Emily, I have heard you say that some of your characters have been based on your own children. Have you written a character based on yourself? If so, who?
A: It’s fairly common for writers to draw on autobiographical material in their early books, and I was no exception. Lizzie, the mother of the main character in my first book, Something Special, is a light but quite faithful sketch of me—as I was at that time, anyway. Normally I don’t base characters on real people, though. It’s more interesting to let characters grow into themselves as the book develops.
How do you create a magical element in a realist setting? How do you know how much magic to include?
A: I’ve always seen the potential for magic in ordinary things, people and places. Most people have experienced odd things at one time or another—a weird string of coincidences, maybe, or time apparently going faster or slower than usual, or a strange feeling in an old house, or a flicker of shadow seen out of the corner of an eye … I’ve written stories based on all these things. Writing magical reality is just a matter of giving your imagination full play, letting it lead you, allowing yourself to believe, and then writing the story accordingly.
Which of your settings would you like to visit or live in?
But in fact I actually feel as if I have lived in all my other worlds as well. While I was writing Deltora Quest, part of my mind was living in Deltora all the time. It was the same with Rondo, with the world of the Three Doors, and of course with Rowan of Rin. I know them all as well as I know my home place, and I can revisit them any time I like. Rowan’s world is the one I find the most appealing, I think, but this could be because it was the one I wrote about first.
What is your favourite nursery rhyme or fairy tale and have you included it in your work in any way?
A: I can’t say I have an absolute favourite, really, though Little Red Riding Hood has always appealed to me because I like the idea of the big bad wolf impersonating the Granny. I put legendary, fairytale and nursery rhyme characters into the world of Rondo because I see Rondo is a sort of metaphor for the imagination, and of course the tales we’ve heard and read are part of that, all jumbled up in our minds with the things we’ve thought up for ourselves.
The Shop at Hoopers Bend (Angus&Robertson, HarperCollins) is a transcendent tale that made me cry both times I’ve read it but also lifted my heart.
A: Thank you! That’s a wonderful compliment.
You’ve named your main character, Quil (from Jonquil). Why have you chosen this name rather than another winter bulb or flower?
A: I always try to give my characters names that somehow suit their personalities. We have a lot of jonquils in our garden. They aren’t flamboyant and bright. They don’t make big, happy, dancing statements, like daffodils. They’re unobtrusive, but when you get close to them you can see their delicate beauty, and you realise that they have the most beautiful scent. So to me the jonquil was a good symbol for a reserved and sensitive person like Quil.
Could you tell us a little about Quil’s game, ‘Stardust’? What type of person are you from this game?
A: Having learned that everything on earth contains the dust of long-dead stars, Quil decides that this is the answer to the vexed question of why we are instantly attracted to some people—even feeling as if we have met them before—but are left unsure or even wary about others, however nice they are, till we know them much better. Quil believes we recognise and feel we ‘know’ people whose stardust most exactly matches our own.
This has been an idea of mine for a long time. It applies to places as well as people. Quil takes the theory further by dividing people she meets into types and giving those types star names of her own invention. This helps her to feel in control of her world, to some extent. Her stardust types are very personal to her. I wouldn’t dare say which type she might decide I am. A bit of a mixture, I suspect.
The setting around the character-filled shop at Hoopers Bend is distinctly Australian. How do you create this or other scenes with a minimum of description?
A: That’s quite a hard question to answer, because when I’m writing I don’t think specifically about which words to use. I just put myself into the scene and say what I’m seeing, hearing and smelling. I don’t like to stop the story dead with great slabs of description, preferring to give the atmosphere and appearance of any setting come out through the eyes of the characters as the story moves on.
What did you enjoy reading as a girl?
A: In early primary school I read all the usual Australian children’s classics, The Wind in the Willows, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and lots of Enid Blyton and LM Montgomery books among many others. By the end of primary school I had discovered the Brontes, and after that I read books for adults almost exclusively.
What have you enjoyed reading recently?
A: I’m just reading Hag-Seed, Margaret Atwood’s take on TheTempest, and am enjoying it immensely. Margaret Atwood never fails to amaze me.
Thank you, Emily, and all the best with your wonderful books and their important legacy.
Samantha Wheeler writes informative tales about environmental and conservation issues. She frames these inside warm, child-friendly stories. They are also exciting.
Thank you for speaking with Boomerang Blog, Samantha.
My pleasure, thanks for asking
Where are you based, what is your background and how are you involved in Australia’s children’s literature community?
I split my time between our inner city home near the Brisbane CBD, and a small property we have near the Sunshine Coast. I came to writing quite a late, only writing my first story after completing the Year of The Novel course at the Qld Writers Centre in 2009. Prior to that I worked with farmers and taught agriculture and science in high schools. My first published story, Smooch & Rose, about koalas in Redland Bay, was accepted by UQP after I pitched to Kristina Schulz at the CYA conference in 2012, and was published in 2013. Being fairly new to writing, I’ve found the children’s literature community in Brisbane, and Australia wide to be incredibly welcoming and encouraging. I feel very lucky to have chosen this genre for my books.
Do you give many presentations to children? How do you make them interesting? Have there been any particularly memorable responses?
Yes, I do, and with my background in teaching, I love this part of being an author. I hope I make them interesting by having fun with the animals and characters I’ve written about. Encouraging children to explore their curiosity is a wonderful thing. For example, who knew cassowaries had no tongue? Or that wombats had square poo? Nature is full of delightful surprises. One of the most memorable responses happened just recently at a local school. After I spoke about my latest book, Wombat Warriors, the whole school (including the principal) sang ‘Dig Like a Wombat’ – with actions!! It was fantastic!
I can imagine children collecting and keeping your books. Could you tell us about your books?
Aww! That’s a nice thing to say! Thank you. To be honest, I would collect my books (he he). I write exactly the type of book I would have loved as a child. I was really into books with an element of truth, so books like Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals fit that description. So when I write now, I try and satisfy that burning urge to find out more about nature while creating an adventurous ride for the reader. I usually choose stories after seeing things myself (e.g: when developers cut down all the trees where a koala lived: Smooch & Rose, or when I saw a newspaper article about wombats being buried alive: Wombat Warriors) or after talking to children about the problems facing our wildlife. (e.g: the cassowaries up in Mission Beach: Mister Cassowary, or the problem of plastic in our ocean: Turtle Trackers (coming 2018)). So if you’ve seen anything that worries you … let me know!
What awards have they been shortlisted for or won?
My first children’s book, Smooch & Rose, was shortlisted for the 2014 Queensland Literary Awards and the Readings Children’s Book Prize, and my third, Mister Cassowary, was shortlisted for the 2016 Wilderness Society Environment Award for Children’s Literature, the Readings Children’s Book Prize, Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Award and was commended in the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales Whitley Award. It’s too early to say for Wombat Warriors, but fingers crossed!
How do you combine information about Australian animals and environmental issues with a satisfying storyline?
It’s a bit tricky! I usually do a lot of research before writing, and my early drafts can be a bit didactic. I sprout facts worse than an encyclopedia. Luckily I have very patient editors at UQP, who kindly point this out, and I have to switch things around to weave the facts more carefully into the story. It’s not always easy though. Endings are especially hard as, like my characters, I want to save all the cassowaries or all the wombats, which can be a bit unrealistic. I have to keep focussed on the ones in the story and think about how they might be saved in a practical and realistic way.
What’s your favourite Australian animal?
I think I’d have to say the southern hairy nosed wombat. So adorable! I loved researching them, and think a sequel to Wombat Warriors might be in order, just so I can research them again! I do have a soft spot for sugar gliders and willy wagtails though.
What were you like as a girl?
I lived in Africa as a little girl, and although I loved school and reading, I think I was quite shy in class. Collecting interesting animals (like chameleons, tortoises and giant stick insects) and having adventures outdoors were by far my favourite things to do.
Who do you model your characters on?
Most of my characters are a mix of people I know. So Aunt Evie in Wombat Warriors was based on a colourful aunt of mine in England who didn’t have her own children and seemed to forget I was only a child. Staying with her was both scary and exciting, as she’d let me do things Mum would never approve.The shy Mouse in the same book is based on a young girl I know who always looks to her mum when I ask her a question, despite having very firm views on wildlife herself. Spud in Spud & Charli was a huge thoroughbred I used to own, who smelt terrible, and loved eating more than anything else in the world. And nasty Uncle Malcolm in Smooch & Rose, well … some things are best left a secret.
Are you aware of any progression in your books – writing style, intended reader, issues addressed …
My books have become a little longer since Smooch & Rose, mainly because there’s so much to say! But the overall style and intended audience has remained the same. I’ve tried to spread the protagonists out across the books so that I’m not always writing about girls or about boys, just trying to mix it up. The issues have no real pattern, just the ones that press most to be written. I’m always on the lookout for possible ideas, and most of our family holidays revolve around some sort of animal adventure, so all suggestions welcome!
What are you writing about now or next?
I’m editing my next book called Turtle Trackers, which is set up near Mon Repos in Bundaberg. Approximately 300-400 turtles come to the beaches in this area to nest every year. While I had the pleasure of watching baby turtles hatch last January, I was saddened to hear of all the problems they face. Many students I’ve spoken to have said that the turtle is their favourite animal, so I’m really looking forward to sharing this book with them early next year.
What have you enjoyed reading recently?
I’ve just finished the most magnificent children’s book by my wonderful friend and colleague, Peter Carnavas. The Elephant. It’s also published by UQP and is beautiful, funny, and sad. It’s Peter’s first novel and boy, its good!
Thanks Samantha, and all the best with your wonderful books.
Thank you Joy, it was my pleasure. All the best with your wonderful blog.
Thanks for being interviewed by Boomerang Books Blog, Steph. Where are you based and what is your current role?
I’m based on the Gold Coast, but I was born and raised in Melbourne. I write Young Adult novels and visit schools to give talks and run writing workshops.
How involved are you in Australia’s YA community?
I read more Australian YA that probably any other category! And I recommend it heartily to everyone, every chance I get. Australian YA is wonderful both to read and as a community to be part of – I have always found YA writers and readers incredibly supportive and welcoming.
Could you tell us about your earlier books?
My debut novel, Girl Saves Boy, is about a girl saving a boy from drowning, the secrets they both keep and all of the events that ensue, including garden gnome theft and lobster emancipation.
My second novel, All This Could End, is about Nina, a girl who robs banks with her psychopathic parents and younger brother – and accidentally takes hostage a boy she knows in a bank robbery that goes horribly awry.
It’s the first time I’ve really felt comfortable writing about a lot of things that are very close to my heart – I drew on my own life a lot writing this novel, and wrote about things that I think are important to represent in fiction for young people.
I was inspired to write Kirby dealing with her grandfather’s dementia after someone in my own life was diagnosed with dementia, which is something that so many people deal with. And even though the novel covers a lot of heavier things – including mental illness and being estranged from a parent – there’s still a lot of humour and lightness. It’s a novel that’s hopeful.
Kirby is gay but the focus of the novel is not on her coming out; that’s just one aspect of her life and who she is, and is normal and accepted, as it should be. The country town where she lives is not a homogenous place, because Australia is diverse, and I wanted to represent that – so characters some from a variety of cultures and backgrounds. I aspired to write individuals; no real person is defined by one aspect of themselves, and people rarely fit clichés, so I wanted my characters to reflect that.
I wrote Night Swimming as the novel that would have been a comfort to me as a young person, who often felt anxious and out of place and awkward, and who struggled with my sexuality and my race and so many other things. And I hope that other young people will find the novel uplifting. I hope that it resonates.
Who are the major human (and animal) characters?
Kirby, our awkward/adorable protagonist, who has a pet goat, is a carpentry apprentice and loves her family and her town more than anything. She wants nothing to change in her life, and – unfortunately for her – suddenly everything does.
Clancy, her best friend, who is obsessed with musical theatre and longs to leave town, move to Sydney, and become a star. Instead he’s stuck working in his parents’ restaurant. He continually comes up with ridiculous money-making schemes and insists on Kirby being his partner-in-crime.
Iris, new girl in town and the love interest of both Kirby and Clancy. Her parents open a restaurant across the road from the restaurant belonging to Clancy’s parents, sparking a bit of a rivalry. She plays the mandolin, is the most brightly dressed person Kirby has ever met, and makes a lot of puns.
Stanley, Kirby’s pet goat, son of her first pet goat, Gary. Likeable, charming, sophisticated. Not a regular goat, a cool goat. Best character in the book.
You have a cast of minor characters who help create the community setting. Who is your favourite and why?
Kirby’s cousin Nathan is my favourite of the secondary characters – he’s a bogan and a bit of a dag, but he’s a very affable, endearing character. (And he, and Kirby’s friend/Nathan’s girlfriend Claire, were the same age as me when I wrote this – about 21. So if I lived in the town, I would be friends with them – that’s probably why I wrote them to be so likeable.)
I really enjoyed the humour in the story. Could you share a little?
Thank you! Clancy is the biggest source of humour in the story – probably because he is so unapologetically and ridiculously himself, and Kirby is willing to be a sidekick and go along with his absurd plans. His Cane Toad Removal Specialists scheme is one of my favourites.
Why crop circles?
I love The X-Files. I love conspiracy theories around aliens, though I don’t believe them – they’re entertaining. And I love the idea of bored teenage kids in country towns making crop circles.
I also wanted to explore the way that things that are pretty uneventful (i.e. some crops getting flattened) can explode into a huge source of gossip and intrigue when there’s not much else going on (i.e. in a small town).
I really enjoyed 1984 and Animal Farm as a teenager, and so many young people study George Orwell books at school. And because they’re classics, older people have read them, too. So a love of George Orwell books is something that Kirby has in common with her mum – who she’s very different from, in a lot of ways.
Were you talking to Gabrielle Tozer while you both were writing your new books? You’ve both mentioned The Very Hungry Caterpillar! What were some of your favourite books as a child?
The Very Hungry Caterpillar is such a timeless classic – I adored it as a kid, and I think anyone who read it as a child loved it. I remember wanting to create stories way back when I was reading picture books – probably before I actually understood the words. I loved Where The Wild Things Are, and the Charlie and Lola series, and The Lighthouse Keepers’ Lunch.
As a slightly older kid, I loved massive series – The Saddle Club, Babysitter’s Club, Enid Blyton’s books, just anything with a whole lot of books I could collect and obsess over. My favourite Australian books as a kid was Deborah Abela’s Max Remy Superspy series. I always wanted to be a spy.
I started reading YA when I was about eleven – my first favourite YA novel was On The Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, and it’s still one of my favourites now (I could not possibly name a single favourite novel these days – I would have to give you a top ten).
What have you been reading recently?
I’ve been reading lots of Australian YA, including:
Vikki Wakefield’s Ballad For A Mad Girl which is an incredibly creepy novel about a girl being haunted by a ghost – that’s still very authentic and magnificently written (like everything by Wakefield).
Paula Weston’s The Undercurrent which combines sci-fi and action in a future, dystopian Australia and manages to be both enjoyable escapism and politically relevant and thought-provoking, which is quite a feat.
Mark Smith’s The Road To Winter which is a really haunting dystopian novel that’s ultimately hopeful. It’s reminiscent of Claire Zorn’s The Sky So Heavy but with a deadly virus as the apocalyptic event rather than nuclear winter. I’m excited for the sequel.
And I just finished Begin, End, Begin, the #LoveOzYA anthology, which was all kinds of wonderful. My favourite story is the one by Jaclyn Moriarty, because it features a time travel agency and a hilarious protagonist.
Thanks very much, Steph, and all the best with Night Swimming.
Thank you for interviewing me! Always a pleasure to ramble about books!
Where are you based and what is your current role, Danielle?
I live in Melbourne, and currently I wear many hats … I’m a young adult and middle grade literary agent with Jacinta di Mase Management. I’m a writer, editor and book blogger – and most recently I edited and contributed to the HarperCollins book Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology.
How did something you’ve done in the past help you get this position?
From about the ages of 14–21 I wrote a lot of FanFiction. “FanFic”, if you don’t know, is fiction about characters or settings from an original work of fiction, created by fans of that work rather than by its creator.
I wrote a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dawson’s Creek and Twilight fanfic – just because I loved it, and imagining worlds beyond the end of a television season or the last page in a book got my creative synapses firing.
And actually, when I applied for the university course that set me on this path of books – RMIT’s Creative Writing and Editing program – I didn’t have any of my own creative writing to submit for consideration, so I sent through one of my Buffy fanfic pieces. And I got in.
I honestly don’t know that I’d be here today if I hadn’t found a sustaining creative-outlet in FanFiction.
How involved are you in Australia’s enthusiastic YA community?
Very. I’ve had my own personal book review blog – Alpha Reader – since 2009 that I still contribute to today. When I started my book blog, I called it “my solo book club” and I just read the books that I wanted to – which just so happened to be a lot of what I’ve always read and gravitated towards – romance and YA. I’d always write these long, rambling and impassioned reviews of YA books, and eventually that led to me being invited to write about youth literature for the Kill Your Darlings online journal, for about 2 years. I always tried to give YA, and Aussie YA especially, the respect and consideration I didn’t think it was getting from mainstream arts media.
Then in 2015 the #LoveOzYA grassroots movement kicked of and I became a proud supporter of that conversation – until I was eventually elected to help form the inaugural and official #LoveOzYA committee, championing Australian YA.
It’s fantastic that females are writing brilliant Oz YA. Even in the recent past there were outcries about lack of female writers being shortlisted for the Older Reader (YA) category in the CBCA, for example, but this year all 6 shortlisted books are by women. I know there are a few around, and you’ve included two in your book, but where have the males gone?
I think it’s all pretty subjective, really – and balances out in the end.
If you look at younger children’s books in Australia (junior fiction and the 8-12 middle grade readership), that category has mostly been male-dominated, and for a long time. The likes of Paul Jennings, Morris Gleitzman, Shaun Tan, Jack Heath, Tristan Bancks, John Flanagan, Andy Griffiths, Oliver Phommavanh…
Australia and international YA also has no problem spotlighting fine male authors – Markus Zusak, Jay Kristoff, John Marsden, Patrick Ness, John Green, James Dashner, Rick Riordan, David Levithan, Ransom Riggs, Jay Asher … I think the guys are doing okay.
The fact that the #LoveOzYA Anthology doesn’t have more male writers came down to availability – we did query others, but timelines and deadlines didn’t match up, in the end … but we got two of the finest writers – period! – in Will Kostakis and Michael Pryor.
And what we prioritised more was a diversification of story and genres, as opposed to genders.
Could you tell us about Begin, End, Begin, the anthology of Australian YA short stories you’ve edited?
#LoveOzYA was a hashtag that sparked a conversation that created a movement that led to this book … the #LoveOzYA hashtag was created in response to the onslaught of American blockbuster YA that was dominating our bookshelves. And the idea to create an Anthology riffing on that hashtag and grassroots movement was just about showing people all there is to love about Australian YA – and giving us a way to crack open the conversation about supporting local stories and authors.
At the end of the day I think the hashtag, movement and book are all about encouraging Aussie teens to read Australian stories – so they grow into adults who seek out their national literature, and keep our books community alive and thriving.
How was this title selected?
The theme we gave each of the authors to write to was “firsts”. But writing about “firsts” inevitably leads the mind to think about “lasts”. And we found that this second recurring theme emerged in just about all the stories being written – every beginning was an ending too – and we loved that, we wanted to pay tribute to that.
What genres have you included? Was this deliberate, or an outcome of what the authors wrote?
We wanted a big enough theme that all of these eclectic authors could write across multiple genres and really showcase the fact that “Australian stories” are not just set in the outback or small coastal towns …but that Australian stories are ghost stories. And space stories. And anything-else we want them to be! It was very deliberate.
How did you select which authors to invite to contribute to Begin, End, Begin – or did they twist your arm?
Well, when I started approaching authors it was all a very hush-hush secret and embargoed project … but myself and Harper Collins publisher, Chren Byng, started by writing separate lists of – maybe? – 30 authors we’d love to work with. Then we came together and picked out where we had crossovers in our wish-list, and from there it was a matter of going down the line and asking everyone if they were available and would they like to be apart of this amazing project?
I will say that since the Anthology came out, I’ve had a few Aussie YA authors approach me and let it be known that *if* there’s a second, they’d love to be involved.
So. Watch this space.
What brief/guidelines did you give the contributors?
The theme of “Firsts” and a ten thousand-word limit. And that the story had to be original. Then it was a matter of letting their imaginations run wild …
Was there any author you wanted and couldn’t get – and could maybe include in another book? Or an author you want for the future?
Yes. And yes. But I won’t say who, because they may be someone I’d like to approach for Anthology No. 2 and I’d quite like any future line-up to be a surprise. But I’ve been asking readers which Aussie authors they’d like to see appear in any future Anthology … and writing down those suggestions too.
There’s definitely a list I’m holding onto.
What have you learned about any of these authors?
I’ve learned that I was absolutely right to have been fans of all of them before embarking on this project … because every single one just astounded me with their generosity and story.
My advice is; don’t just meet your idols – but work with them. See what magic happens.
Who wrote the most unexpected story? Why?
Oh my gosh, – me! I was the unexpected emerging voice in the Anthology, with my story ‘Last Night at the Mount Solemn Observatory’ and there were times when I thought I would be too crippled by self-doubt and imposter syndrome to get it done … but I did and I’m proud of it. And a bit surprised, to be honest.
Mine is a story about a little sister, saying goodbye to her Deaf big brother on his last night in their small town. It’s inspired by my own family, partly – and when I initially spoke about it with our Harper Collins editor, she told me that she loved the idea because she’s CODA (a child of Deaf adults). So we both spent a lot of time getting it right and focusing especially on the rhythms, beauty and rapidity AusLan (Australian sign-language). So I’m proud and surprised by what I accomplished.
Did anyone surprise you by submitting their work early?
I don’t think so? … Amie Kaufman surprised me by being a day late, only because she was getting her friend (who works at NASA!) to read over her story and give some feedback on the logistics and feasibility of her outer-space setting.
I wasn’t upset in the least; I thought it was SO COOL!
And I’d still quite like to get a “NASA-certified” sticker on the front cover because of it. HA!
How did you sequence the stories?
My publisher, Chren, put is so perfectly when she said choosing the sequence would be like putting together the perfect mix-tape. I took that advice and made sure there was a balance of genres (so sci-fi, followed by contemporary, followed by surrealism, followed by contemporary) just to hit those different peaks. And also that long and short stories were side-by-side, so readers wouldn’t get two 10K stories in a row, and become a little weary with lengths.
Was much editing involved throughout? If so, what type of edits?
There was a bit of editing … structural edits for each story, talking out things like character-development and whether or not the story was hitting the right marks at the right times (trickier to do when you have a shorter word-count, and not the length of a novel to ease into dramatic climaxes or subtle denouments). But everyone got there in the end. And there was certainly nobody who needed more editing than anyone else (myself included!)
What do you hope for OZ YA in the near future?
I certainly don’t think that Australian YA is perfect. I think it needs to be more diverse and inclusive, to honestly portray Australia back to its teen readers.
But that being said – I don’t think the representation in Australian YA will get better by us ignoring our national youth literature. I think it will improve by us investing in it, and that’s certainly the route I’m taking.
I’m now a literary agent, and I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m actively seeking and prioritising “Own Voices” stories (a term coined by American YA author Corinne Duyvis, to identify books about marginalised protagonists written by authors who share that same identity.)
And I’m really proud of the fact that the first YA manuscript I sold was a sci-fi, eco-thriller called ‘Borderland’ – written by a debut Indigenous writer and poet, Graham Akhurst (coming out with Hachette, in 2018).
I take it as a huge honour, opportunity and responsibility that I’m now in a position to have a say in the Aussie YA of the future … and for my little corner of the books world, I’m going to do all I can to make sure all Australian stories get told, and that as many Aussie teens as possible see themselves in those stories.
Because teenagers who fall in love with their national youth literature, will one day grow up to be adult readers who seek out Australian stories. And everyone has a story worth telling.
Thanks for answering these questions and for all your work in promoting Oz YA literature, Danielle, and all the best with Begin, End, Begin and your other endeavours.
Where are you based, Gabrielle, and how are you involved in the YA literary community?
I’ve lived in Sydney for 11 years, went to university in Canberra and grew up in Wagga Wagga. It’s no secret the YA community in Australia is filled with passionate, supportive and hardworking authors, readers, bloggers, bookstagrammers, vloggers, educators, booksellers, librarians, publicists, editors, publishers etc, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it. Writing novels is so solitary and I’m an extrovert – well, most of the time – so I adore the wider community from a social and professional aspect, including participation in festivals, launches, catch-ups, book clubs, Twitter live chats, writing sprints, the list goes on.
You seem to be very active on social media. How does this help (or not help) your work?
I have a love-hate relationship with social media, especially Twitter. I made a horrifying discovery the other day: I have written almost 46,000 tweets since joining in October 2009 (I won’t tell you how many novels I could’ve written with that number of words but it’s in the double digits). I’m quite all or nothing in everything I do in life so I’ll often have to block myself from social for blocks of time using apps like Freedom or SelfControl – but a large majority of the Australian writing community is online now so I can’t see myself quitting anytime soon! On the upside, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook connect me with other writers, book lovers and pop culture addicts, which has been a joy – I’ve taken many online friendships to the real world, especially in recent years. Believe it or not, it can also be a wonderful source of motivation; I often invite other writers to join me for #500in30 writing sprints on Twitter, where we strive to write 500 words in half an hour, so it can be fruitful. Sometimes.
What does your title, Remind Me How This Ends (HarperCollins), refer to? Which came first, your title, the story or something else?
My novel Remind Me How This Ends is about two characters who don’t know what’s next after high school – and the title refers to decision-fatigue, being stuck at the crossroads and feeling like you missed the memo on getting your life together. My own feelings of uncertainty, grief and heartache came first with this novel, closely followed by the lead characters and storyline. The title came well after I’d finished the first few drafts. My husband, who is my first reader, and I had Adele’s latest album blasting at home one day and he suggested the title ‘Remind Me How This Ends’ to me after listening to the lyrics of her song ‘All I Ask’. I knew it was perfect. (Later that day we realised the lyric ‘remind me how this ends’ was a mondegreen – a misheard lyric – and Adele’s real lyric was ‘it matters how it ends’.)
What is the significance of the cover? Like the title, Remind Me How This Ends’ cover plays into uncertainty and endings – happy or otherwise.The daisy petals represent that classic idea of ‘They love me, they love not’… but you’ll have to read the novel to find out more!
How does this novel differ from your earlier books? Remind Me How This Is Ends is a very personal novel. My heart is smeared on every page of this one. I loved entertaining readers with Josie’s shenanigans in The Internand Faking It, but I wanted to challenge myself to write something real that connected on an emotional level, even if it hurt. Reading it now, I can see I wasn’t in a great headspace during the drafting process – my characters’ pain is my pain – but the wonderful thing about writing is you can unpack your feelings on the page. I’m proud of this one, mainly because I wasn’t always confident that I’d be able to finish it, so it’s extra special to hold a copy in my hands.
Could you introduce us to the major characters? Milo and Layla are 18-year-old family friends and former next-door neighbours who haven’t seen each other for five years – not since Layla’s mum died in shocking circumstances when they were 13 and her grieving father whisked her away from their small town of Durnan in the middle of the night. Now, Layla is back – showing up at Milo’s family’s bookstore of all places – and things are even more complicated between them. These two friends are lost, so very lost, but in extremely different ways. Milo’s girlfriend and mates have fled Durnan for jobs and university but he’s stayed behind so feels suffocated by his overbearing parents and indecision. Layla’s spent five years pushing away the memory of her mum, but being back in town with Milo triggers the past in a way she never expected…
Is there a character you would like to write more about? Maybe Milo’s obnoxious older brother Trent. He was so much fun to write. I’ve met many ‘Trents’ during my time living in Wagga and Canberra – his voice was so clear to me during the drafting process.
Could you describe Milo’s family’s bookshop? How would you change it if you owned it? The Little Bookshop is quaint, sleepy and, like many of the people and places in Durnan, a little unappreciated – mainly because his father is too busy chasing after another dream! Milo and Trent, who both work shifts at the shop, also don’t treat it with the care it deserves either because they’re too self-absorbed with their own lives. If I owned The Little Bookshop, I would change it in many ways – I’d connect with the Durnan community, add storytime sessions for parents and children, and hire staff who are passionate about books!
Characters remember the picture book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. What other books from your childhood left an impression? So many! My parents are former teachers so my childhood was filled with gorgeous stories – and their passion for reading is a big reason why I dedicated my debut picture book Peas and Quiet to them. I still have Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, There’s A Hippopotamus On Our Rooftop Eating Cake, Possum Magic, Wombat Stew, Picasso The Green Tree Frog and Edward the Emu on my bookshelf – and the collection hasn’t stopped growing.
What books are you reading at the moment (or recently)? I’ve recently finished A.S.King’s Still Life With Tornado, Pip Harry’s forthcoming Because of You, Claire Christian’s forthcoming Beautiful Mess and Catherine Deveny’s Use Your Words. Next on the TBR pile is Madonna King’s Being 14, Maxine Beneba Clarke’s The Hate Race, and Eliza Henry-Jones’ Ache.
I was very disappointed to miss hearing you at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, Gabrielle. What did you talk about and what did you particularly enjoy about your sessions?
I’m disappointed I missed out on meeting you too, Joy. It was a crazy-busy week, and we obviously both had full dance-cards! As for my Festival talk: I have a theory about teenage audiences –10% of them love writing, and really want to be there. 20% are readers, so they’re happy to be there as well – that means 30% of the room are ‘interested’. 40% are pleased to be missing out on classwork, and if they enjoy the talk that’s a bonus. I put them in the ‘open’ category. That leaves 30% of the room at various degrees of active resistance to listening to what I have to say. I figure I’ve already got the ‘interested’ top 30%. The ‘open’ 40% can be persuaded. But it’s those tough nuts in the bottom 30% – the ones who don’t want to be there – who I want to crack. So my talk is directed at them. I talk about what I was like when I was at school (bad), and I read out extracts of my year 11 report (very bad), which generally sends a gasp through the room. I then explain that I’m a professional liar these days because I’m paid to make up stories, but I add that they shouldn’t judge me too harshly because actually, everyone lies. The fun part is when I ask them to put their hand up if they’ve told a lie that morning, and most of the room puts up their hand (including teachers). I then explain that lying isn’t always bad, because it utilises a particular type of thinking called ‘divergent thinking’ which is important for creativity. I take them through a technique I use called Nine Squares – which is divergent thinking made easy – and explain how they can use it for good (coming up with ideas), instead of evil (telling lies). One of the things that I particularly loved about my sessions at the Festival was when teachers came up to me afterwards and said they’re now going to incorporate Nine Squares into their classroom lessons. And when a group of boys walked up to me and said they thought writing sucked, but they’d each bought a copy of my book for me to sign anyway. Well, that right there felt like success to me.
What a great turn around with those students, Gabrielle! Where are you based and how are you involved in the YA literary community?
I’m a Melbourne girl, and work a couple of days a week at Readings books in Malvern. I’m lucky enough to have made a fantastic group of friends in the Melbourne YA writing community who I’ve met through talking at Festivals and school visits – Fiona Wood, Cath Crowley, Emily Gale, Nova Weetman, Kim Kane, Bec Lim, Chrissie Keighery, and Simmone Howell are all people I catch up with regularly. I’ve also become great friends with some Sydney writers (again through Festivals) and catch up with Kirsty Eagar, Melina Marchetta, and Will Kostakis whenever I’m in their neck of the woods.
I’ve really enjoyed the originality of your novels, Gabrielle. Could you give our readers a brief overview of each?
That’s gorgeous of you to say so, Joy. Thanks. My first YA book was ‘Beatle Meets Destiny’ which was about a superstitious boy called Beatle, who meets a girl called Destiny in unusual circumstances, and wonders whether she’s ‘the one’ – only problem being that Beatle already has a girlfriend. My next book was, ‘The Reluctant Hallelujah’, a crazy road-trip type adventure between a group of 5 teenagers who have never met each other, but who have to drive (unlicensed) from Melbourne to Sydney in order to deliver the body of Jesus Christ to his next ‘safe house’. Some people were put off reading it because they thought it would be thrusting religion down their throat – it wasn’t. It wasn’t about religion at all (despite the fact that Jesus Christ Himself featured as one of the characters). In fact, it was an exploration of the themes of trust and selflessness, and I loved writing it because I felt like it was such an original concept. My third book was called ‘The Guy The Girl The Artist and His EX’. It follows four characters (again, who don’t know each other) who are all impacted on by the real-life theft of Picasso’s ‘Weeping Woman’ from the National Gallery of Victoria by the Australian Cultural Terrorists in 1986. My newest book is called, ‘My Life as a Hashtag’. It centres on a girl called MC who feels like everything is going wrong in her world, so she vents anonymously against one of her best friends on-line, only to watch, powerless, as her rant goes world-wide viral a few weeks later.
As with your other titles, I greatly admire My life as a hashtag (Allen & Unwin). How does this differ from your other books?
‘My Life as a Hashtag’ is a much more linear novel. It’s ‘straighter’. It’s told from the perspective of looking back over the past year, running straight through from beginning to end, whereas with all my other books I’ve always liked playing with structure. I wanted to have a more tried-and-true structure for MLAAH, because there were a number of important issues I wanted to explore, and I felt like a linear structure would help give clarity to the concepts I was wanting to examine.
What issues did you raise in the novel?
There are a number of themes I wanted to look at: the issue of social media and how teens negotiate it; family break-ups; the identity of self; the politics of boys in female friendships; on-line trolling; the fact that once you post something on-line, you have no control over what people do with it; sibling relationships; ‘blocking’ and being ‘blocked’; and watching a party unfold on social media, when you’re not invited.
How did you create such a strong feeling of dread?
Creating a strong sense of dread was one of the ‘balances’ we worked hard to get right. I say ‘we’ because my editor and publisher were instrumental in pushing me to go further, and pulling me back when I went too far. I wanted there to be a sense of dread, but I also wanted a lightness throughout the book, otherwise the story would have been too grim. The sense of dread is created partly by telling the story from the perspective of the narrator looking back over the past year, which gives the reader the sense that something momentous has happened which the narrator is now reflecting back over.
This novel is very current, especially about social media. How do you know what teens are saying/doing?
The irony of me writing a book where social media is one of the major focuses, is that I’m not on Facebook, I’ve only recently started getting the hang of Twitter, and I’m still nervous about posting photos on Instagram. So technically, I don’t know what I’m talking about! However, as it turned out, my lack of knowledge ended up being to my advantage, because I didn’t make any assumptions about how teenagers use social media. Instead, I interviewed a number of them about how they approach it, the politics of posting, and how they deal with it emotionally. One of the things that I found interesting was the fact that they engage with it differently from even twenty somethings, creating something of a ‘generation gap’ between teens and people who are only a few years older. With respect to the teenagers I interviewed, I was astonished by some of the things they revealed to me (to the point where some them didn’t want to be thanked in the Acknowledgements – they’d rather remain anonymous). Through my research, I learnt about a thing called the secret Tumblr diary, which parents definitely don’t know about, and even friends aren’t privy to. If a teenager has a secret Tumblr diary, it’s the place they go to find a safe (and secret) community with others who are struggling with, say, their sexuality, body image, gender or friendship issues. I found the concept of the secret Tumblr diary both alarming and comforting. Alarming, because if, for example, they’re anorexic or bulimic, there are girls (overwhelming this is a girl issue) called Ana (pro-anorexia) or Mia (pro-bulimia) who give tips on how to purge (vomit) effectively. But comforting because this is where they go to speak to likeminded individuals if they aren’t sure if they’re gay, or trans, or are trying to reconcile other confusing feelings or issues inside their head.
What tips have you learned about successfully using social media while researching and writing this novel?
I learnt that if you want to get the optimum ‘likes’ on Instagram, you have to time your posts for when everyone is most likely to be on-line. Generally a Sunday afternoon is a good time. Definitely NOT a Saturday night.
Have you ever started any trending posts?
No. I think a trending post would be quite difficult to manufacture, and the stuff that goes viral is so random, it’s almost impossible to pick.
What does the cover represent?
I adore the cover and think Debra Billson did an outstanding job. It’s a photo from an Instagram post, taken the night MC and one of her best friends Anouk have a massive falling out over a boy called Jed. The title and my name are written in a font which has graduated colouring, mirroring the logo of Instagram. It’s so funny to watch adults pick up my book and ask me what the cover represents, whereas teenagers pick it up and instantly recognise it as Instagram.
MC and her friends are studying Jasper Jones and Harvest in English. Why did you choose these two books?
‘Jasper Jones’ by Craig Silvey is a current school text that has as one of its themes the idea of rumour and innuendo and assumption of guilt. ‘Harvest’ by Jim Crace is set back in the middle ages when stocks in the village square were a form of punishment. Both books – even though they’re both set in an earlier time – have parallels with today’s internet culture: the public shaming, innuendo and rumour, where society makes judgments on people without having the full facts – often without even caring what the real facts are. So long as someone can be the scapegoat, everyone’s happy.
What books are you reading at the moment (or recently)?
I’m one of the judges for the Readings Prize for Adult Literature, so I’ve been reading plenty of new Australian fiction lately. Some of the ones I’ve personally loved (which may or may not make it onto the long or short list) are, ‘Skylarking’ by Kate Mildenhall, ‘The Lost Pages’ by Marija Pericic, ‘To the Sea’ by Christine Dibley, ‘From the Wreck’ by Jane Rawson and ‘The Good People’ by Hannah Kent. So much great Australian fiction at the moment – we’re really experiencing a heyday. The other book I really want to read is, ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ by George Saunders which I’ve heard amazing things about.
I loved Skylarking and The Good People but you’ve given me even more books I must read, Gabrielle.
Thank you for your very generous answers, Gabrielle, and wishing you great success with My life as a hashtag and your other books.
I described this year’s CBCA picture books in a previous post but promised to also write about Bob Graham’s Home in the Rain, which I have done here.
I’ve also added some ways of sharing the shortlisted picture books with children at home or school in case it helps with Book Week activities.
Home in the Rain is written and illustrated by Bob Graham (Walker Books Australia)
A mother and daughter, Francie, are driving home from Grandma’s in heavy rain. The illustrations suggest that they are possibly African-Australian. The mother is pregnant with a baby sister for Francie. They stop en route to have a picnic in the car.
While driving, Francie uses her finger to write names on the foggy windows.
Spell words with their fingers using different media, e.g. play-dough, sand, polystyrene balls, or fingerpainting with paint.
Alternatively, if the weather is cold, they could blow on windows to make steam and then write words or names.
This picture book is also appropriate for very young readers, partly because of the interest generated by the animals shown outside the car, such as the baby rabbit diving for cover, the hunting kestrel, and a seagull eating chips.
Children could make cork creatures of the animals shown in the book and hide them around the library, classroom or home.
Outis written by Angela May George and illustrated by Owen Swan (Scholastic Press)
After reading Out, read other refugee stories such as Teacup, Ziba Came on a Boat, My Two Blankets, The Treasure Box and Little Refugee.
Music/Dance The girl dances at school to different music.
The teacher, parent or carer could play music from cultures represented by refugees in Australia and children could dance to this music.
English The child’s mother has English lessons.
Children could learn a few words from languages spoken by refugees in Australia.
My Brother is written and illustrated by Dee Huxley, character creation and illustration by Oliver Huxley and design by Tiffany Huxley (Working Title Press)
Children could emulate the structure and changing colour of the illustrations in the book by folding a piece of paper to form a left and right hand side. On the left side they could draw or paint in monochrome colours to represent sorrow and grief. Then, beside this on the right hand side, they could illustrate using warm colours to represent happiness and hope.
One Photo is written by Ross Watkins, illustrated by Liz Anelli (Penguin Random House Australia)
At home, children could take photos of family and important things.
Then they could select one best photo of people or something that is important for them to remember.
Print the photo at home if possible, or digitally send to school ready for printing.
Form and display a class montage with one photo from each child.
Mechanica: a beginner’s field guide by Lance Balchin (The Five Mile Press, Bonnier Publishing Australia)
Alternatively, construct 3-D winged creatures similar to those on the endpapers using found and made materials, such as foil.
Children could also make up their own 2-D creature in the style of those in the book. Present these on a double-page using the format of the book, where there is both an illustration and a written description.
The Patchwork Bike is written by Maxine Beneba Clarke, illustrated by Van T Rudd (Hachette Australia)
Make a large bike as a class. If possible, make it big enough to sit on.
Try to use materials shown in the book:
Bent bucket seat, handlebar branches
Bashed tin can handles, wood cut wheels
Flag from flour sack, small pot bell
Painted on lights, bark numberplate
Paint Movement Practise the technique of smearing paint to show movement.
There were three debut authors shortlisted in the 2017 CBCA Older Readers category, signalling the new talent being unearthed in Australian YA. Unlike some short lists in the past, all the authors are female this year, representing the number of females writing YA.
Most of the novels are contemporary realism, although Waer is speculative fiction and Yellow has elements of spec fiction.
Many of the characters come from working class backgrounds and some are dealing with deep anger, particularly in Frankie and One Would Think the Deep.
Parents are missing, dead or substance-abusers in virtually all the books. Children are missing in Frankie, Yellow, Words in Deep Blue (where Cal drowned) and Waer (where Kemp is missing). Beach/water settings are prevalent and music features in Frankie and One Would Think the Deep.
The predominance of the colours blue and yellow on the covers reflect the colour schemes published in 2016, very different from the black dystopian and supernatural covers of the past.
In this post, I will focus on the three novels by debut authors because I’ve written about the other books previously.
Waer is a werewolf tale, told as an intricate fantasy.
There are three narrators: Kaebha, a torturer, Lycaea and Lowell, who takes his pagan religion seriously, lives in a valley and finds Lycaea almost drowned. When soldiers destroy the valley dwellings, Lowell and Lycaea escape with some others. Archetypes from fantasy such as the journey, battles and hidden identity surface.
War and the displacement of Lowell and others form some parallels with current refugees, ‘To them we’re not people’.
Readers who enjoy Waer should love Megan Whalen Turner’s exceptional series which begins with The Thief. She has a new one out, Thick as Thieves.
Yellow by Megan Jacobson (Penguin Random House Aust)
Yellow is a very well written story about 14-year-old Kirra. Her surfie father named her after Kirra Beach, but calls her ‘Yellow’ because of her yellow eyes. Yellow often suggests cowardice but this girl is brave.
The story is set near Byron Bay. Kirra’s father has left the family and her mother has become a drunk. In graphic scenes, Kirra forces her to detox. The words of the popular girls scratch her inside but she decides to fight back. ‘People only have the power to make you feel small if you let them.’ Her relationship with kind Noah seems promising but she wrecks it by getting drunk at his party.
Yellow becomes a ghost story when Kirra causes a dog to drown and then talks to a ghost boy in a disconnected phone box. She tries to catch his murderer, putting herself at risk.
Kirra’s English teacher and the local librarian recommend Lord of the Flies, To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye and The Bell Jar. All books worth pursuing…
Issues of forgiveness arise here and in Frankie.
Frankie by Shivaun Plozza (Penguin Random House Aust)
Frankie is Italian and funny. She was abandoned by her mother and thinks she ‘deserve[s] to fail’. Her younger half-brother, Xavier, who seems to be a thief, finds her and gives her a longed-for Joy Division album. In this book, musician Ian Curtis killed himself like Jeff Buckley did in One Would Think the Deep, but both their music lives on.
Frankie is set around Smith St, Collingwood (where Robert Newton’s Mr Romanov’s Garden in the Sky and some of his historical novels were also set).
The dialogue in Frankie is smart, with a streetwise voice. The scene where Frankie follows Nate with his ‘blue gaze’ to a ‘fence’s’ house, is chillingly intimidating. When Xavier disappears, the contrast between the lack of energy put into his disappearance compared with that of rich boy Harrison Finnick-Hyde is explored.
There are numerous descriptions of graffiti throughout the novel. Readers could perhaps create their own ‘Small Street Interruptions’ based on Michael Pederson’s website ‘Outside’ http://miguelmarquezoutside.com/.
Pederson leaves quirky temporary artwork (such as roping off a dandelion with a sign, ‘do not touch’ like in an art gallery) in laneways, backstreets and buildings to surprise and encourage people to slow down, be in the moment and recognise surroundings. He attaches them with Blu-tak and removable tape.
The other three shortlisted books are:
Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley (Pan Macmillan Aust) which recently won the Indie YA award.
Music helps but doesn’t heal protagonist Sam’s residual rage and grief. There is a playlist at the end of the book featuring Jeff Buckley’s Loser, So Real and Grace and Split Enz’s I Got You (which Jennifer Niven also uses in All the Bright Places).
The Bone Sparrowby Zana Fraillon (Hachette Aust) recently won the ABIA award for older children, was shortlisted for the Guardian Children’s Book award and is currently shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie medal.
Zana Fraillon’s next novel, The Ones That Disappeared, about child trafficking, will be published this month.
I heard her speak with best-selling Australian writer, Sally Rippin, famous for Billie B Brown, and whose Polly and Buster series has just been released, at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne this month. The event was sold out, with people standing.
Kate’s latest novel is Raymie Nightingale, a gem of a tale in which Raymie hopes to gain her father’s interest by winning a beauty contest. This story is ‘the absolutely true story of my heart’, confessed Kate, whose father had also left their family. Family photos show Kate, her brother and mother but her father is missing. Until Raymie Nightingale, Kate had created fictional fathers in her books, writing instead about missing mothers, in a kind of reverse reality from her own life. Until this book, Kate had only written herself obliquely into her stories.
As a child, she was ‘terrified, shy and worried but was astonishingly good at making friends. That’s what saved me – I could connect’. She loved to read, ‘Books were the most magical thing in the world. I didn’t think humans had anything to do with it… Reading was how I made sense of the world – the doorway in. I’m most in my body when reading a book!’ She now pretends to be an extrovert.
When a child asked if she reads or writes more, Kate responded, ‘Reading is pleasurable. Writing is difficult for me.’ Quoting Dorothy Parker, she retorted, ‘I hate writing. I love having written’ and then added, ‘I’m so much happier writing. That’s not to say I’m happy writing.’ Kate experiences the voice of failure at about 9am in the morning so she tries to write before then and uses ‘that editing voice’ only after 9am. She keeps a journal while travelling and returns to it when writing later. ‘So much of writing is subconscious’. Writing hasn’t become any easier: ‘All you know is you’ve written a novel before but don’t know if you can write this novel.’ She overcomes this by regarding each piece of writing as a draft.
Kate often writes about animal characters, such as the mouse in The Tale of Despereaux and the squirrel, Ulysses, in Flora and Ulysses. Kate loves the word ‘capacious’ and uses the phrase ‘God’s capacious hands’ in Flora and Ulysses to describe Flora’s father’s heart. Kate also hopes to be ‘capacious of heart’.She certainly does seem to have won many Australian hearts during her tour here.
Some of Kate’s other novels are The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, The Tiger Rising and The Magician’s Elephant. Her wonderful Christmas picture book is Great Joy.
American YA writer, Jennifer Niven has been wowing fans up and down Australia’s east coast from the Sydney Writers’ Festival, to Brisbane, then Reading Matters in Melbourne, then Adelaide and further afield.
It is no wonder she is greatly loved. She seems to care for everyone she meets and gives equal weight to answering the questions and concerns of all her readers. She has transformed the difficulties and joys she has experienced in her own life into becoming a brave, ‘honest and responsible’ writer, speaking for those who may not have a voice. She doesn’t like conflict but has become an advocate after writing her first YA story about a boy she loved who suffered from mental illness in All the Bright Places. She poignantly recalls, ‘I lost him to suicide’ and about how she wrote about this relationship and experience ‘as honestly as I could … Pieces of me are in each of my books’. Jennifer has since received thousands of messages about how All the Bright Places has, in some way, saved people’s lives.
Jennifer reiterates that everyone deserves to be seen and heard and inscribes some people’s books: ‘You are wanted’. ‘Life can be dark but there are always bright places everywhere.’
I was thrilled to be invited to lunch in Sydney with Jennifer and a small group of informed young bloggers. Jennifer was charming; a lady who listens and engages. She was very generous with her time; asked us all to sign her copy of All the Bright Places (a lovely, original idea) and showed us a sneak peak of the photo of the young actor who will be playing lead character, Finch, in the movie of All the Bright Places.
When I asked at lunch how she gets into the writing zone as quickly as possible, she explained the importance of music and playlists, including Split Enz’s song, I Got You (her playlists are online). Lyrics are ‘also all about words’, but in a different form.
Even though Jennifer is generous with her words in conversation, she is happy to listen to others rather than dominate the conversation; conversely when writing, she writes more than she needs before paring back the words.
Unfortunately, she’s not able to write while on tour but, despite this, jumped at the chance to come to Australia, agreeing even before she was given the dates.
Jennifer concluded one of her sessions at Reading Matters by sharing her and her author mother’s writing advice: ‘let yourself cry (or laugh or feel); check it in the bus locker (put distractions away so you can focus on writing); and write the kind of story you want to read.’
Thanks to Penguin RandomHouse Australia for the incredible opportunity to meet Jennifer.
As part of this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival Student Sessions, I was fortunate to host a couple of sessions with British stand-up comedian Natalie Haynes and facilitate one with Randa Abdel-Fattah and Yassmin Abdel-Magied.
Natalie became one of the most popular presenters at the festival. She’s probably better described as a performer, though, because she brings ancient history and the ancient mythic world alive and into the present for her audiences.
She reworks stories for her own purposes, drawing on her expertise in the ancient world and on making it relevant today. She stands out because she can share her knowledge on stage, screen and in her books in a rivetting way.
Natalie is a classicist and a comedian, an unusual combination. She used to be a stand-up comic, but retired when she realised she preferred tragedy to comedy. Her quick wit and incredible knowledge enabled her to effortlessly command the stage.
Natalie’s new novel The Children of Jocasta was published in May. It’s a re-telling of the Oedipus/Jocasta/Antigone tale and will make you fascinated by mythic history (if you’re not already). An earlier book, The Ancient Guide to Modern Life explores philosophers such as Plato, Ovid and Agrippina the Younger.
Randa Abdel-Fattah & Yassmin Abdel-Magied
In our session about ‘Mono or Multi-cultured’ at the Wharf, Randa Abdel-Fattah, who examines issue of racism, multiculturalism and human rights in Australia through her novels and essays, explored what contemporary multiculturalism and racism look like in Australia today with activist and author Yassmin Abdel-Magied.
Randa has written Does My Head Look Big in This?, When Michael Met Mina and other novels, particularly for young adults, as well as essays. When Michael Met Mina is an important story because it gives both Michael’s view – a popular guy coming from a racist family – and Mina’s – an intelligent young woman whose family was killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan, forcing her and her mother to flee by boat. The novel airs many issues and opinions – true and false – such as people saying that ‘potential terrorists are hiding among boat people’ and people who want to be able to say, ‘Merry Christmas’ without offending anyone; to some darker-skinned girls feeling they have to use skin-whitening creams and others being intimidated and vilified. The novel gives diverse viewpoints. It’s great to read because we are exposed to different perspectives and then make up our own minds. It shows the power of literature to create understanding and empathy.
Randa has also been a lawyer and has a PhD in Islamophobia in Australia.
Yassmin is well known through her media appearances and I’ve learned from reading her memoir, Yassmin’s Story (which she wrote recently while in her 20s) that she loved reading Enid Blyton and her favourite character was, as you might expect, George; she deliberately created slang at school; she channels Beyonce in time of need; she loves sharing stories on stage and she learned in debating that she can argue any side of an argument!
Yassmin also won Young Queenslander of the Year in 2015; as a teenager co-founded Youth Without Borders; is an engineer; worked on a rig and loves cars.
I cannot do these intelligent and articulate authors justice in their explanation of structural racism and other issues here. I do suggest reading their books and online articles to gain a greater understanding of, particularly, racism in Australia.
As always, the Sydney Writers’ Festival in May was an amazing week.
The NSW Premier’s Literary Awards were announced on the Monday night and I was thrilled to meet the Patricia Wrightson (children’s book) winner for the surrealist mystery Iris and the Tiger, Leanne Hall (who I interviewed for the blog here), photographed below with shortlisted Tamsin Janu and shortlisted Ethel Turner YA author Lili Wilkinson.
The winner of the Kenneth Slessor Poetry award was Peter Boyle for the inimical Ghostspeaking, an intriguing mystery of finely woven stories and poems. The richly constructed characters are brought to life with interlaced poems. It evokes Borges’ Labyrinthswith the brush strokes and ideas of artist William Robinson and the clear bold outlines and strokes of Matisse.
At the SWF, I was privileged to be in conversation with Dr Anita Heiss and Witi Ihimaera for the ‘Indigenous Voices’ sessions at the Wharf in Walsh Bay and at Parramatta Riverside Theatres. It was great to have the opportunity to discuss Anita’s new The Race for Reconciliation, a novel for children that celebrates Aboriginal hero Cathy Freeman and shares truths that many Australian children don’t know about stolen children, National Sorry Day and other aspects of Aboriginal recent history.
Anita has also shown Aboriginal women in contemporary Australian literature in new and important ways such as in Barbed Wire & Cherry Blossoms. This compares the WW2 Prisoner of War camp near Cowra in central NSW when Japanese soldiers broke out, with the local Wiradjuri people who also virtually lived under prison conditions – and had less food than the Japanese prisoners.
Also in this session was revered Maori writer Witi Ihimaera. He was the first Maori author to have both a novel and short stories published. In his memoir, Maori Boy, Witi uses a unique and powerful spiral thread structure. He also uses myths in his work.
Witi is well known for his book and movie from the book, Whale Rider and also now, Mahana. At times he wished he was brought up more in Maori traditions and he wasn’t great at the haka. But he was destined to do another kind of haka.
Anita and Witi made a fine team enlightening us about indigenous voices.
By Neridah McMullin, illustrated by Andrew McLean Allen & Unwin
Another amazing animal in the Eve Pownall shortlisted books is the horse, Fabish. He was an old horse who rescued the yearlings from the terrible Black Saturday bushfire. The trainer rescued the finest race horses but couldn’t look after them all so he set Fabish free with the yearlings. He discovered every single one safe after the decimating fire but didn’t know where Fabian had taken them.
Picture book form is an apt medium for this true story. Important Australian illustrator, Andrew McLean, is an expert in painting our countryside and animals and Neridah McMullin has crystallised the events into a riveting tale.
Primary-age children could no doubt imagine where the horses may have found safety. They could write and draw their possible experiences.
By Michael Sedunary, illustrated by Bern Emmerichs Berbay Publishing
This tale begins in 1808, 20 years after the First Fleet, when soldiers arrest Governor Bligh. It then retrospectively tells the account of the Mutiny on the Bounty before returning to Bligh’s attempts to quell both the Rum Rebellion and John Macarthur.
Michael Sedunary’s writing is picturesque and colourful; personalising Bligh’s life and endeavours.
Bern Emmerichs’ illustrations are intricate and patterned.
Surprisingly, blogging and social media appear in this book. Bligh’s log (now kept in Sydney’s Mitchell Library) relates blogging to the gossip, printed pamphlets and handbills of the period. Macarthur’s ‘tweets’ against Bligh are viewed as the social media of the time.
The first Australian political cartoon (adapted here) shows Bligh dragged from under his bed by Major Johnston’s men. Propaganda is explained and readers are asked to think about how ‘simple slogans and labels are meant to stop us thinking any further about things.’
More surprises appear when readers are asked to consider who is the hero or villain – Cook or Bligh? (Cook ordered many more floggings than Bligh.)
Other books in the series are What’s Your Story? and The Unlikely Story of Bennelong and Phillip.
Enormous congratulations to Berbay Publishing for its Bologna Award.
The Eve Pownall Information Books this year span the ABC, animals and history.
They highlight several small, independent publishers, who should be congratulated on their excellent publications.
Spellbound: Making Pictures with the ABC
By Maree Coote Melbournestyle Books
Spellbound also won a 2017 Bologna Ragazzi Award. It’s a large, sumptuous hardcover in three parts: architecture, animals and people, and features typography (letter art) where images are created from letters that spell their names.
Young children could find the letters in the illustrations. Older readers could appreciate the typographic poetry (shape poetry) where the meaning of the text is enhanced visually.
I spoke to the creator, Maree, on the day before she flew to Bologna to receive her award, who explained that she has restricted herself to using existing fonts.
There are three levels of difficulty within the book’s examples: 1. any letters that inspire a picture can be used 2. only use letters of the correct spelling of the subject’s name 3. only use correct spelling and only 1 font per letter (see page 3).
This book helps understanding of Visual Literacy. (See page 3 for line and shape, and page 63 for patterns.)
Children could use Macs, or equivalent, to create their own letter art.
There is even a mini tutorial on how to create animals using only letters.
A-Z of Endangered Animals
Words and Illustrations by Jennifer Cossins Red Parka Press
The Introduction explains how the high animal extinction rate is due largely to humans, and also introduced species such as rabbits and foxes, in Australia.
Everyone can help by reusing and recycling, keeping beaches clean and not wasting water.
The book is well-designed; it’s clean and clear.
It is structured with one animal representing each letter of the alphabet.
Information on the left-hand page includes conservation (e.g. endangered or vulnerable) status; current population; description of the animal and where it lives; and an interesting fact such as no two tigers have the same striped pattern, and eastern gorillas use basic tools to gather food.
Each animal is illustrated on the opposite page.
Primary-aged children could focus on Australian endangered animals and present information using the same format, possibly to make a class book.
Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks
By Gina M. Newton National Library of Australia
Like A-Z Endangered Animals, Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks shows which species are endangered, vulnerable or threatened (their conservation status).
Every state and territory is included, so readers may be able to visit one.
The structure is organised by environments and habitats such as woodlands and grasslands (the Bush), wetlands and waterways, arid zones and coast, oceans and islands.
Each habitat has a double page, followed by one page each for selected animals.
Read this book to discover more about our wildlife and how to care for the environment
There are high-quality photos, interesting ‘fast facts’ and a glossary.
I will write about the 3 other Eve Pownall shortlisted books in another post.
Bunurong man from Victoria, Bruce Pascoe also wrote Fog a Dox, which won a YA Prime Minister’s Literary Award and Seahorse. Like Seahorse, Mrs Whitlam centres around an Aboriginal family, without emphasising Aboriginal issues. Pascoe here portrays well-functioning, happy, ‘normal’ families. He also won 2016 Book of the Year for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards for his adult book, Dark Emu. I’ve interviewed the author for Boomerang Blog here.
In Mrs Whitlam, Marnie is surprised to inherit a Clydesdale horse called Mrs Maggie Whitlam after its young owner dies. The horse is named after the wife of the former Prime Minister who, as Marnie’s mother states, ‘Did a fair bit for black people too!’ The tale explores suffering at an appropriate level for young readers, introduces us to a very appealing girl who is brave but sometimes made to feel inferior, and culminates in an exciting rescue.
After finishing the short novel, children could re-read descriptions of the horse, research Clydesdales and then make an ‘assemblage’ (a 3D collage originating from Picasso’s cubist constructions). They could make the rough sculpture by using ‘found objects’ such as wire, cardboard and wool or twine.
Extreme suffering is evident in this well-written holocaust tale set in Warsaw, Poland during WW2. It is mainly placed in history just before Morris Gleitzman’s novel, Soon, another graphic account of violence against children and adults.
Within These Walls is not just another holocaust story. It is particularly interesting and engaging and reveals a depth of knowledge and research based on true events, especially in the sealed ghetto. The details such as Miri’s mother wearing a wig and baking challah create verisimilitude. The family reads the Biblical book of Esther and the Passover account of the Jews’ Exodus from Egypt, replacing slavery with freedom. Both books are pertinent to the story told here. Family is critical to Miri but, tragically, she loses her parents and siblings one by one.
We experience Miri’s life in the city, the open and closed ghetto and in a dark cellar. The novel begins with her time in the cellar and it is used to foreshadow some of Miri’s darkest times.
Even though Within These Walls is shortlisted for younger readers, parents and schools may wish to examine the contents before giving to all children.
The Younger Readers CBCA Short List has a well-balanced selection of books; there’s something for all primary school age groups. I know the awards are judged on literary merit, but this is a helpful and positive by-product.
I’ve written about these 6 books in three Parts for the blog.
As well as a plot run-down and mention of anything that stands out, I’ve incorporated some activities that children could do with these books at school or home.
Boys, in particular, will be very keen to read these first two books.
By Kate Temple & Jol Temple, illustrated by John Foye Allen & Unwin
Jimmy is thrilled to share a name with Captain James Cook but not so keen to write a diary, like the explorer. When he reads that Cook kept a ‘log’, he becomes far more interested. Like Jimmy, children could keep a short log about their daily activities, especially at school, and include one or more illustrations in the naïve style of the book.
The book is funny. When Jimmy dresses up as Cook for History Week he uses powder and hair cream to create Cook’s curls but the cream leaves him with bald spots. He takes his fake arm to Bed, Bath and Cables and loses it in the Kids’ Ball Pit.
When he realises that Cook was killed by the Hawaiians, Jimmy resolves to continue his explorations. He eats cereal to try to win a competition to Hawaii, feeds his baby sister an orange thinking she has scurvy and inadvertently terrorises a guest speaker. He starts an Explorers’ Society (but no girls are allowed) and the members use a formula of ‘Sir + Street Name + Fridge’ brand to invent their names, such as ‘Sir Clanville Fisher-Paykel’. Children could also try finding their own explorer names using this method.
Jimmy discovers lots of information from Google, such as what ‘fermented’ is, and uses an ancestry site to find out about his descendants. Children could also use the internet to learn about their past family.
This companion graphic novel to the award-winning Rivertime is set in Gariwerd (the Grampians). It tells the second story of Clancy and Uncle Egg, whilst respectfully including and acknowledging the Jardwadjali, Djab Wurrung and other Aboriginal peoples, as they try to find the source of the Glenelg River. Nephew and uncle also encounter native wildlife and plants and, of course, get lost along the way.
Read this book in conjunction with the Eve Pownall shortlisted, Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks. Teacher notes are available at the publishers’ website. Also read My Place by Nadia Wheatley and Donna Rawlins to highlight the section where Clancy imagines the history of the lake and who could have lived there (page 71).
Children could use the panels when Clancy is falling down the cliff, on pages 32-39, to create their own mini-graphic novel or animation of something that could go wrong in the wilderness.
The 2017 CBCA Early Childhood Short List features animals (as always), with two picture books specifically about birds. Two books are about farms and one is set on a Northern Territory camp. Family remains an evergreen theme and humour is the core of some of the books.
Go Home, Cheeky Animals! written by Johanna Bell, illustrated by Dion Beasley (A&U)
This funny story is the stand-alone sequel to Too Many Cheeky Dogs. The book is sponsored by the NT Government and has an engaging narrative with a cyclic structure based on the seasons and changing weather. Animals are the highlight, though. At first, too many cheeky dogs keep the other animals away. Then the rains bring a gang of goats, the sweaty season brings a ‘drove of donkeys’, cool winds bring a herd of horses and drought brings a bunch of buffaloes and caravan of camels. But when it storms, ‘all the cheeky animals go crazy’. And the cheeky dogs do nothing to stop them, for a while …
Illustrator, Dion Beasley is a 24-year-old Indigenous man with muscular dystrophy. He is also deaf so he and author, Johanna Bell, collaborate using Skype and sign language. He has a naïve drawing style with plenty of humour, such as how he shows when something happens to Grandpa’s pants, and when goats drive. The endpapers give an overview of all the animals. Children could practise counting animals throughout the book and the Too Many Cheeky Dogs website includes a child-friendly activity of making wrapping paper with cheeky dogs.
Family is important to this story and includes Dad, Mum, Grandpa, Uncle, Aunty, brother, sister, but no Grandma. Nannie Loves fills this gap.
Nannie Loves by Kylie Dunstan (Working Title Press)
Nannie lives on a cosy and inviting farm, with ‘rolling hills, a muddy creek and lots of paddocks, green in winter, brown in summer’. It is a quintessential Australian setting and makes us want to walk into the story. The scenes are contained to provide an appropriate focused framework for young readers; there is repetition of the words, ‘Nannie loves …’ to help beginning readers; and there are some wordless pages.
Nannie collects her mail wearing her gumboots. She loves her letters, her animals, her garden and her family. She laughs with her family who help her work around the farm. She loves them and she loves the young narrator. This book has a gentle humour, such as when Nannie watches for Grandpa in one of his many checked shirts.
Kylie Dunstan has used paper collage, gouache and pencil.
The greens of Nannie’s farm change to browns of a drought-stricken farm in All I Want for Christmas is Rain.
This storybegins clearly with an illustrated bird’s eye overview of a dry farm. In the rhyming text, the protagonist, Jane, asks Santa for help with her family’s threatened property, ‘My mission was clear – I had hatched a great plan: I would ask for help from the great bearded man.’
Santa seems to fulfil her wish and there is a particularly evocative picture of the family dancing in the rain and mud on Christmas Day.
Children could extend their experience of this story by reading some other Australian Christmas stories such as Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King’s Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle and Colin Buchanan‘s books, or by painting an Australian farm scene using mud.
In contrast, The Snow Wombat is set in a very different part of Australian.
The Snow Wombatwritten by Susannah Chambers, illustrated by Mark Jackson (A & U)
Showing a wombat’s life in the snow is an original idea for a picture book. Like some of the other useful endpapers in books described here, these endpapers are a highlight and show a map of the wombat’s movements and haunts.
Every sentence begins with the word ‘snow’, and many begin with the phrase ‘snow on …’, which is helpful for beginning readers. The repetitive, simple text becomes even more predictive, encouraging young children to say or ‘read’ the rhyming word.
After reading the book, children could make wombat footprints in ‘snow’ using baking powder and conditioner or shaving cream. Tracks of some of the other animals in the book could also be made by indenting the ‘snow’ with fingers or sticks.
In a different illustrative style, cartoon seagull, Chip, follows with a funny story.
Chip loves eating chips – fat, skinny, soggy, sandy, crunchy, spicy chilli-dipped chips – even though he doesn’t feel well afterwards. This is a tale about healthy eating in the guise of a hilarious story about Chip and the length he goes to eat when people are banned from feeding the gulls.
The illustrations include newspaper collage (apt because it’s used for wrapping fish and chips; a newspaper article also features). My favourite illustration shows Chip with a noodle box on his head and noodles streaming out like hair.
Another bird protagonist in the Short List is Gary.
Gary is a racing pigeon who can’t fly but dreams of adventure. He works on his scrapbook of travel mementos on race days when he’s left alone in the loft, even though he’s never travelled. When he lost his balance one night, he fell into the travel basket and was carried far from home to the city. Of course the racing pigeons flew home, but Gary was left by himself. Fortunately he had his scrapbook of travel mementos and was able to plot his way back to the loft.
This is a very appealing story of overcoming obstacles or disability and of flourishing in different surroundings. New situations can be frightening for children and Gary demonstrates courage and ingenuity, which could help young readers.
The illustrations are created using mixed media and, again, in this book we find interesting endpapers.
After reading the story, children could use found objects and mixed media to create their own scrapbook about travel.
Hi Alex Ratt, could you tell us about yourself and your alter-ego?
That’s a very existential question! I have to decide which is me and which is the alter ego…Well, I was Frances Watts first, so let’s start with her—I mean me.
I have written twenty-two books, ranging from picture books (including Kisses for Daddy and Parsley Rabbit’s Book about Books, illustrated by David Legge, and Goodnight, Mice!, illustrated by Judy Watson) to historical novels for young adults (most recently The Peony Lantern, set in nineteenth-century Japan). And then there’s my less fragrant alter ego, Alex Ratt. I thought being someone completely different would allow me the freedom to write something completely different—hence Alex Ratt. (Also, Alex Ratt has a big bushy false moustache and Frances doesn’t. And who wouldn’t jump at an excuse to wear a false moustache?!)
Who is Jules Faber?
Jules Faber, I’m delighted to say, has a much more straightforward identity: he is Jules Faber! He is also an extremely talented cartoonist and illustrator, well known for his work on Ahn Do’s Weirdo series and David Warner’s The Kaboom Kid series.
How important are the illustrations in this book?
The illustrations are integral. The Stinky Street Stories (Pan Macmillan Australia) should feel welcoming and accessible to all kinds of readers, whether they are confident readers or not, and the illustrations do so much to convey the humour that is inherent in the text. One thing I particularly loved about working with Jules on this book is his spirit of adventure. Whatever wacky image I can dream up, he is prepared to draw. A sculpture of a rocket ship made entirely of carrots? No problem!
What type of comedy do you write?
Despite the word ‘stinky’ in the title, I don’t actually see the humour in The Stinky Street Stories as focusing on the gross. To me, the real humour is in the absurdity of situations and images. And the challenge is to take the absurdity and, within the bounds of the story, make it logical.
How do you get your readers to laugh out loud (as I did about some carrots and a pumpkin head)?
I’m glad you liked those bits—that’s exactly what I mean about the humour being absurd rather than gross. That’s where I find those laugh-out-loud moments: in unexpected juxtapositions, in ideas pushed to ridiculous extremes, in characters who treat these hilarious scenarios seriously.
Brian is a very funny character. Could you tell us about him, his sister Brenda, and any other characters?
Brian (‘call me Brain—everyone does’) has a somewhat overinflated sense of his own intellectual prowess, which is why he is able to meet absurdity with seriousness. His friend Nerf is the perfect sidekick, being just ever so slightly dafter—but loyal and good-hearted. The real brain of the family is Brian’s sister Brenda. And in his heart, Brian knows it to be so, and calls on her in moments of crisis.
What is your favourite scene in The Stinky Street Stories?
You picked it yourself: the pumpkin heads. Because within that particular story, ‘The Ripe and Rotten Reek’, it not only makes perfect sense for Brian and Nerf to be running across a field with pumpkins on their heads, it is a positively brilliant plan!
Who do you hope reads this book?
Everyone! By which I mean boys and girls. I had a lot of fun turning gender stereotypes on their heads. The (anti)heroes might be boys, but the girls have a strong, smart, sassy presence. And, as I said above, I hope the book is enjoyed by confident readers and reluctant readers—we (by which I mean the whole village that makes a book: the author and illustrator and publisher and editor and designer) were determined to make it a book that had something to offer every kind of kid and every kind of reader.
What’s next in Stinky Street?
The second in the series, 2 Stinky, will be published in August. There are smelly sewers, pongy penguins…and a house of (stinky) horrors!
What other humour have you written?
All my books have humour in them—it’s just the way I’m wired—but the first overtly humorous books were those of the Ernie & Maud series, featuring trainee superhero Ernie Eggers and his trainee sidekick: a sheep called Maud. More recently I have contributed stories to two humorous anthologies, Laugh Your Head Off and Laugh Your Head Off Again.
How many aliases do you have?
Oh dear…You’re on to me, aren’t you?! The truth is, Alex Ratt is not my only pen name. Frances Watts is a pen name too. (Yes, my pen name has a pen name.) My real name is Ali Lavau, and I am a very serious book editor who hardly ever wears a false moustache to work.
Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Brigid. I greatly admired your new novel Letters to the Lost(Bloomsbury).
Where are you based and how are you involved in the YA lit community?
I live near Annapolis, Maryland, which is pretty close to Washington, DC. I’m an active member of the YA community, both online and in person, and I’ve met so many amazing authors, booksellers, and book bloggers since Storm was first published in 2012.
Could you tell us about your other books?
I’m the author of the Elementals Series, published by Allen & Unwin in Australia. This series follows the four Merrick brothers, four orphaned guys who can secretly control the elements of earth, air, fire, and water.
How is your new novel Letters to the Lost different from your earlier books?
Letters to the Lost is my first contemporary YA novel, while the Elementals books have a paranormal element. Despite the change, all of my books always follow complex relationships between people, so I’ve been told that my paranormal novels read like contemporaries with special powers thrown in the mix.
Why have you chosen the names Juliet and Declan Murphy for your major characters?
I just love the names. Sometimes I struggle to find the perfect names for my characters, but these two came to me right off the bat.
How important is letter writing to them? (Is it important to you also?)
Letter writing is very important to Juliet, because she would write letters to her mom while she was alive, and she continues the tradition by leaving letters on her mother’s gravestone. I don’t write many physical letters myself, but I love writing to people. My closest friend and I almost exclusively communicate by email and text message!
Rev, Declan’s friend, is an intriguing character. Why does he have a ‘rock solid’ faith even after his father’s abuse?
I love Rev! I don’t want to give too much away about his story or his motivations because his book, More Than We Can Tell, will be out March 2018, but his faith is very important to him, and he struggles with whether his faith is appropriate, considering what he went through with his father.
I was interested in the idea that one photo could aspire to telling a whole story. What role does photography play in the story?
Photography plays a huge role in the story, especially since Juliet’s mother was a photojournalist, and at one point, Juliet wanted to follow in her own footsteps. I was partially inspired by how we’ve all grown so dependent on social media, and how we’ve started judging people based on the limited amount we see—which is also what those people have chosen to share. People are so much deeper than just what a photograph reveals. And that works in all ways: both positive and negative.
You give a strong portrayal of mothers (even though they are very different from each other). How did you flesh out these women?
Thank you! I find people fascinating, and I try to flesh out all of my characters. As a mother myself, I wanted to show how mothers (and fathers) aren’t infallible, and we’re all just doing the best we can. Sometimes the best we can isn’t the “best” at all, but life is messy and complicated and we’re all just trying to get through it. One of the most profound moments of young adulthood is realizing that the adults around you are just as capable of screw-ups as teenagers are, and realizing that maturity isn’t about not messing up, it’s about messing up and how we move on from it.
Your adult mentors such as Mrs Hillard and Frank are powerful. What are their roles?
A lot of YA novels operate in a vacuum where there’s little adult involvement (which is fine!) but it was important for me to show that adults can be allies, and that it’s okay to seek input and advice from adults as well as teen peers.
Your characters with bad reputations are treated worse than other people. Could you comment on this?
In many ways, society has turned to public shaming again and again, especially thanks to social media. Certain people always seem to be fair game, especially if they’re deemed to deserve it. At our core, we’re all people. No one is intrinsically good or bad.
Declan believes in fate but also free will. How is that possible?
I actually think this is more of a debate he has with himself throughout the book, whether everything is fated or whether he has the ability to pull himself off the path he seems destined to travel.
Have any responses from your readers particularly resonated with you?
Yes! It means so much that readers seem to be loving Juliet and Declan and their stories. I’m particularly excited by how many people have been asking for Rev’s story, so I’m glad it’s already written.
What other books have left a deep impression on you?
I recently finished reading An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, and I absolutely loved it. Also The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick. I’m really eager to read Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg, which releases next week, because I absolutely loved Openly Straight, and this is the sequel.
All the best with Letters to the Lost, Brigid, and thanks very much.
I am very fortunate to have copies of the following picture books, with thanks to the publishers, and have written a short exposé of most here.
My Brother written and illustrated by Dee Huxley, character creation and illustration by Oliver Huxley and design by Tiffany Huxley (Working Title Press)
This is a stunning, moving picture book about loss and grief, grief shared by the three creators due to the death of a loved one. The written text is minimal and carefully placed on each page. Vignettes of a small donkey lead the viewer through most of the text. Graphite pencil creates a monochromatic effect for most of the book, becoming warm, yellow-suffused watercolour towards the end.
Teacher Notes are available at the publisher’s website.
One Photo written by Ross Watkins, illustrated by Liz Anelli (Penguin Random House Australia)
One Photo is a touching look at the effects of early onset dementia on a family. Dad comes home with a camera to record his memories and help him remember things. Liz Anelli is growing in power with her illustrations, here using sensitive, child-appealing drawing of the photos as well as of the family.
Mechanica: a beginner’s field guide by Lance Balchin (The Five Mile Press, Bonnier Publishing Australia)
Mechanica is a magnificent, innovative pseudo-scientific study of mechanical (mainly winged) insects and other creatures. It reminds me of Gary Crew’s The Lost Diamonds of Killiecrankie and James Gurney’s Dinotopia in the way that a character embarks on a fictional enterprise in a factual, imaginative style. The book champions the protection of our world and its living creatures and is distinctive because of its fine technical/inventive drawings. The sequel, Aquatica, is on the way. Author-illustrator Lance Balchin, has proved to be a popular presenter at festivals and other events.
The Patchwork Bike written by Maxine Beneba Clarke, illustrated by Van T Rudd (Hachette Australia)
Maxine Beneba Clarke is currently one of Australia’s most exciting authors. She also tells the story of a patchwork bike in one of her books for adults and it is interesting to compare it with this sensory, lively version for young children. The illustrations are by street artist Van T Rudd and they are exceptional in their use of media such as corrugated cardboard and smears of paint to show movement. (I will be writing more about Maxine Beneba Clarke’s work in a future post.)
Out is written by Angela May George and illustrated by Owen Swan (Scholastic Press)
It is a simple refugee / asylum seeker – ‘but that’s not my name’ – story for young readers told from the point of view of a girl. The agonising trip by boat is not glossed over but is told at an appropriate level. The pencil illustrations also make it accessible for the young.
Congratulations also to Bob Graham (Walker Books Australia) for Home in the Rain. I’ll write about this picture book next week.
Where are you based and how are you involved in the Australian children’s and YA literary community?
I’m based in Melbourne. I write fantasy/ adventure novels for young readers (and the young at heart). I also regularly visit schools and teach writing workshops. It’s such a joy to work with students and to encourage their creativity.
Your writing has a singular, imaginative style. It’s also thrilling and unexpected.
I really loved your stand-alone novel, The Hush, and reviewed it for the Weekend Australian here.
How do you think your creative brain works differently from the brains of other people?
Thanks Joy, that means a lot to me.
I’ve always had an urge to tell stories and to ‘make believe’. My parents have countless videos from my early childhood, full of me babbling about fairies or dragons or making up alternative endings to fairy tales.
Having said that, I believe everyone has the potential to be creative. When we are children, all it takes is a plastic toy or a pile of sand to craft a wildly imaginative universe from scratch.
Many people lose touch with their childhood creativity as they grow older. However, I think the potential for wild imagination still lurks within all of us, whether we are authors or accountants! All we need is a chance to express it.
Have you had any particularly memorable feedback about The Hush?
I recently received an email from a young reader who used The Hush as inspiration when playing her various musical instruments. She said that she liked to pretend she was conjuring sorcery through her music, just like the characters in The Hush.
I loved this idea, since it reminded me of my own childhood. When I was a kid, I used to pretend to be various literary characters to inspire myself during daily tasks. (When we did fitness tests in PE, I secretly pretended I was training for a quidditch match!)
It was incredibly touching to hear that my own book could have a similar effect for a reader.
After such a powerful novel, why are you now writing a series?
In a fantasy novel, it often takes a while to establish how the magic and society function. This can sometimes take up a significant chunk of the book. By writing a series, I can cover most of this ‘world building’ in the first book. Then, in later installments, I get to have fun exploring the characters and world more deeply.
I also love the fun of plotting out a series in advance and hiding secret clues about future titles. In the Agent Nomad series, there are moments in Book One and Two with hidden significance that won’t be revealed until later… but of course, my lips are sealed!
It’s about spies and sorcery — and unlike my previous books, it’s set in the modern world.
The protagonist is a 15-year-old called Natalie. When the book begins, she’s an ordinary Aussie teenager, worried about homework and Maths tests.
One night, however, it all changes. A pair of deadly strangers invade Natalie’s home and she barely escapes with her life. In the aftermath, she is recruited by a sorcerous spy agency called HELIX.
As a HELIX cadet, Natalie must train to use her own magical abilities. She adopts the codename ‘Nomad’ and prepares to fight against a cabal of ruthless sorcerers called the Inductors.
Before her training is complete, however, Nomad and her fellow cadets are sent to London, risking their lives to thwart a ruthless Inductor plot before time runs out.
Could you describe each of the three main protagonists, Nomad, Riff and Phoenix, in a phrase or sentence?
Nomad is an artist and a born traveller, who yearns for adventure and to explore the world.
Riff is a jokester with a love of fun, food and rock music – but he also has real talent and a deep love for his friends and family.
Phoenix is a talented fighter, who hides the trauma of her past behind the façade of an emotionless warrior.
I liked both the Australian and London settings. How do you create a sense of place without excessive description?
I think a few carefully chosen sensory details can be more effective than overloaded paragraphs of description.
In the school assembly scene, for example, I needed to describe an Aussie high school gym on a scorching February day. I snuck in snippets of sensory detail: the stink of sweat and cheap perfume sprays, the buzz of a blowfly, the whispering students and glaring teachers etc.
A few of these little details should be enough. If they’re strategically placed throughout a scene, they should prompt the reader to subconsciously fill in the rest of the setting with their own experience and memories.
The pace moves quickly. What’s a favourite scene or ‘inventiveness’ you’ve created?
For personal reasons, I’m quite fond of the chase scene on the train into Melbourne. I’ve spent countless hours sitting on Melbourne’s public transport, daydreaming about magic and excitement. It was fun to incorporate a mundane location like Caulfield Station into a fantasy book. I felt a bit cheeky doing it, actually!
(In reality, I associate Caulfield Station with travelling to university exams. Not quite as thrilling as a magical chase scene!)
Your writing style is a highlight. How would you describe it?
It varies a bit from book to book. In Agent Nomad, I’m speaking through Natalie (a teenage first person narrator). It’s an interesting balancing act to weave in descriptive detail without losing the flavour of her narrative voice.
Danika, my narrator in Chasing the Valley, has a slightly different voice. She’s more cynical and hardened at the start of the series, so her style of self-expression is different. Also, since she’s from a fictional dystopian world, she narrates with different vocabulary and colloquialisms.
By contrast, The Hush is written in third person. I had fun incorporating fancier descriptions (and more complex figurative language) into this book, since I didn’t have to worry about a first person narrator’s style or vocabulary!
Science or magic? Magic or science?
Science in the real world, magic in fiction.
What have you enjoyed reading recently?
In SFF, I’ve really enjoyed Illuminae and Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff – it’s such a brilliant idea to write SciFi in an epistolary format.
Are you writing something else at the moment? If so, could you tell us about it?
I must confess I’m writing too many things! Needless to say, they’re all fantasy projects. Every time I finish a manuscript, a new idea starts itching at me… and before I know it, I’m halfway through another one! Oops.
All the best with ‘Agent Nomad’, Skye. It should create a unique niche in the market.
I know that some people prefer not to have gender labels about books. Regardless, the three following books will be enjoyed by boys, and will no doubt also appeal to a wide readership.
The Grand Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler by Lisa Shanahan (Allen & Unwin)
Lisa Shanahan wrote one of my all-time favourite YA novels, My Big Birkett (published 2006). I have loved talking about it over the years: laughing out loud at the animals that ‘mate for life’ and rattling off the many meals that Raven De Head could make with mince; admiring the correlation with Shakespeare’s The Tempest and adoring the two main characters, Gemma and Raven. It was shortlisted for the CBCA.
Lisa Shanahan has also written picture books, which include Bear and Chook, Bear and Chook by the Sea and Daddy’s Having a Horse (all illustrated by Emma Quay); Big Pet Day (illustrated by Gus Gordon); and Sleep Tight, My Honey (illustrated by Wayne Harris). Many of these have received awards.
Her new novel, The Grand Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler, is best for mid primary-age readers – it’s rare to find a high quality Australian stand-alone novel for this age-group. It is set during a quintessential Australian beach camping holiday. Henry is ‘Mr Worst Case Scenario’. He worries about the adventures and feats (particularly by bike) that most book characters would embrace. The author is perceptive and empathetic in how she addresses Henry’s concerns. The writing and characterisation is impeccable for the intended age group.
Harry Kruize, Born to Lose by Paul Collins (Ford St Publishing)
Another Australian author is Paul Collins, who established Ford St Publishing and has specialised in writing speculative fiction. He has also edited two well-received anthologies, including Rich and Rare.
My favourite of his books was The Dog King, which has been inexplicably out of print for years until now. The author has taken the wonderful essence of The Dog King, added to it, and re-formed it as Harry Kruize, Born to Lose. The core story is about 13-year-old Harry, nicknamed ‘Hobbit’ because of his height, who is bullied by THE BRICK (there are lots of capitals and bolded strategic words in this new version). The beauty and wonder of the tale is the relationship between Harry and the old tramp, Jack Ellis, who moves into the shed behind Harry’s mother’s boarding house. He tells Harry tales about dogs. Some of them seem familiar … The denouement is as breathtaking as when I first read it.
The Light That Gets Lost by Natasha Carthew (Bloomsbury)
The Light That Gets Lost is an accessible, well-written novel for older readers from the UK. 15-year-old Trey deliberately gets himself incarcerated so that he can avenge his family. ‘Camp’ life is tough and he is focused on finding his parents’ killer, who he believes is one of the adults working at Camp Kernow. Sinister secrets are uncovered as Trey draws close to his target.
No surprises that Australian YA literature is up there with world’s best. The prestigious UK 2017 CILIP Carnegie Medal shortlist has just been announced and two Australians have been included: Glenda Millard for The Stars at Oktober Bend (Allen & Unwin) and Zana Fraillon for The Bone Sparrow (Hachette). The writing in both these YA novels is sublime.
The Carnegie Medal is awarded for writing and the Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration.
I reviewed The Stars at Oktober Bend for the Weekend Australian . A memorable scene is of beautiful, damaged Alice Nightingale perched ‘on the roof of her house at Oktober Bend, “like a carving on an old-fashioned ship, sailing through the stars”. She is throwing fragments of a poem into the night.’ Her new friend, Manny, is a former boy soldier.
I also reviewed The Bone Sparrow, about young Subhi in an Australian detention centre, in another Weekend Australian YA column, describing it as a ‘universal refugee tale’ and an ‘exalted, flawless book’. They were both in my top 6 YA books for 2016 and both are currently CBCA Notables (the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s long list). The Bone Sparrow was also shortlisted for the 2016 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize.
It does sound as though Mal Peet and Meg Rosoff are favourites to win the Carnegie. I haven’t yet been able to finish reading Beck, which Meg Rosoff completed after Mal Peet’s untimely death. The pedophilia scenes are so confronting I fear the images won’t be erased. Mal Peet was a raconteur. I chaired a wonderful session at the Sydney Writers Festival with him and Ursula Dubosarsky, whose new novel, The Blue Cat, will be published soon. I was fortunate to have an entertaining lunch with Meg Rosoff and a colleague when working in Brisbane. She is a spectacular, unconventional writer. The other international shortlisted authors (and illustrators) are also stars. Fingers crossed for our Australian writers, of course though.
Other Australians to have won the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals are Ivan Southall with Josh (our only Carnegie winner so far and that was in 1971- but we have won other major international awards since then), Bob Graham for Jethro Byrde Fairy Child, Freya Blackwood for Harry and Hopper (written by Margaret Wild) and Gregory Rogers for Way Home (written by Libby Hathorn). I believe Levi Pinfold (Black Dog) lives in Australia. A number of other Australian illustrators, including Jeannie Baker, have been shortlisted for the Greenaway.
See the complete shortlists from the official website below.
SHORTLISTS FOR 2017 CILIP CARNEGIE AND KATE GREENAWAY MEDALS ANNOUNCED
Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell could win record-breaking fourth Kate Greenaway Medal in 60th anniversary year
Dieter Braun’s Wild Animals of the North, shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal, is first ever book in translation to feature on either shortlist
Mal Peet’s final novel Beck, co-authored by Meg Rosoff, could posthumously win the 80th anniversary Carnegie
Today (Thursday 16th March), the shortlists for the 2017 CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals, the UK’s oldest and most prestigious book awards for children and young people, are revealed.
The Kate Greenaway Medal, which celebrates illustration in children’s books, sees award-winning writer and illustrator Chris Riddell, the Children’s Laureate, in the running to win an unprecedented fourth Kate Greenaway Medal just a year after his hat-trick in 2016. Riddell is joined by another potential record-breaker in the form of Dieter Braun’s Wild Animals of the North. Originally published in German, this is the first ever translated title to make the Kate Greenaway shortlist following the Medals opening up to translated works in English in 2015. They are joined by former Kate Greenaway Medal winners Emily Gravett, William Grill and Jim Kay and first-time Kate Greenaway-shortlisted authors Francesca Sanna, Brian Selznick and Lane Smith.
The Carnegie Medal, which celebrates outstanding writing for children and young people, sees a range of YA and Middle Grade books make the shortlist. Mal Peet’s final novel Beck, co-authored by Meg Rosoff, could be the second book to win the Medal posthumously, following Siobhan Dowd’s Bog Child in 2009. Peet and Rosoff are joined on the list by fellow former Carnegie Medal winners Frank Cottrell Boyce and Philip Reeve, previously shortlisted author Ruta Sepetys, debut authors Lauren Wolk and Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock and first-time Carnegie-shortlisted authors Zana Fraillon, Glenda Millard and Lauren Wolk.
The 2017 shortlists are:
The CILIP Carnegie Medal 2017 shortlist (alphabetically by author surname):
Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earthby Frank Cottrell Boyce (Pan Macmillan)
The Bone Sparrowby Zana Fraillon (Orion Children’s Books)
The Smell of Other People’s Housesby Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock (Faber & Faber)
The Stars at Oktober Bendby Glenda Millard (Old Barn Books)
Railheadby Philip Reeve (Oxford University Press)
Beckby Mal Peet with Meg Rosoff (Walker Books)
Salt to the Seaby Ruta Sepetys (Puffin)
Wolf Hollowby Lauren Wolk (Corgi)
The CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal 2017 shortlist (alphabetically by illustrator surname):
Wild Animals of the Northillustrated and written by Dieter Braun (Flying Eye Books)
TIDYillustrated and written by Emily Gravett (Two Hoots)
The Wolves of Currumpawillustrated and written by William Grill (Flying Eye Books)
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stoneillustrated by Jim Kay, written by J.K. Rowling (Bloomsbury)
A Great Big Cuddleillustrated by Chris Riddell and written by Michael Rosen (Walker Books)
The Journeyillustrated and written by Francesca Sanna (Flying Eye Books)
The Marvelsillustrated and written by Brian Selznick (Scholastic)
There is a Tribe of Kidsillustrated and written by Lane Smith (Two Hoots)
Christina Booth is a talented author and illustrator. She began her career illustrating books written by Colin Thiele, Max Fatchen and Christobel Mattingley and then graduated to creating her own picture books, which include Purinina – A Devil’s Tale and Kip. Kip won a CBCA Honour award.
Christina Booth has added to the canon by writing and illustrating The ANZAC Tree (Scholastic Australia) ready for this year’s ANZAC Day.
The ANZAC Tree is set on a farm in Tasmania and traces generations of soldiers from the one family. Phillip, the young narrator at the beginning of the story, likes to climb the big hill and look out at forever. His older brothers each planted a tree on the hill before they left for the Great War. Phillip waters the trees. Roy’s survives but Percy’s tree is dying, foreshadowing his fate.
The narration quickly changes from Phillip to Kenneth, who is Roy’s nephew. Kenneth farewells his father (probably Phillip as an adult), who is going away to fight Mr Hitler. When the family don’t hear from him, Kenneth waits under Uncle Roy’s tree.
In the next section it is implied that Kenneth is the soldier fighting with Uncle Joe in Korea. His daughter, Sophie, takes over the narrative. The psychedelic Sixties follow and Emily witnesses her brother Kevin being drafted to fight in Vietnam. He later has a Vietnamese girlfriend and watches the sunset under Roy’s big pine tree rather than attending the ANZAC parade. Then Chris sees his cousin Jenny go to fight in Iraq and Jack skypes his father in Afghanistan. The story culminates with family members united once again under the pine tree planted by great-great-grandfather Roy a hundred years earlier, appreciating that war isn’t something to be proud of, but being brave enough to fight in them to protect other people is.
Children will enjoy the challenge of deciphering the family relationships and following the recurring symbol of the tree in this powerful, soulful story inspired by real people and events. The illustrations, including the drawings of photos, extend the narrative. The structure is sophisticated but executed skilfully and seamlessly in words and pictures. The ANZAC Tree is a commemoration of one family’s fallen, and is also an excellent picture book for primary schools to use to observe ANZAC Day.
Author, illustrator and former designer at HarperCollins, Matt Stanton, opened our eyes to ‘design thinking’ and strategy in writing and publishing books at yesterday’s ‘Between the Covers’ seminar in Sydney about children’s books and publishing.
Matt is the creator of two very successful series for young readers. The first is aimed at 6-year-old boys. It is unashamedly commercial and doesn’t even try to win literary awards. It is illustrated by Tim Miller and began with There is a Monster Under My Bed who Farts.
His second series creates a funny and interactive experience for young children and their parents or carers. The first book in the ‘Books That Drive Kids Crazy!’ series is the very popular, This is a Ball and is a collaboration between Matt and his teacher wife, Beck. Now parents, Matt and Beck are ‘learning how to re-enter the space of play’ and what better than using a book to do so! The second in this series is Did You Take the B From My –ook? and The Red Book, with its bold purple cover, is on the way.
His third series ‘Funny Kid’ will be launched around the world this year. It is aimed at middle grade readers.
Matt focuses on the ‘who’, the reader, rather than on what he personally may want to write about (although maybe these are the same thing). I found this stance fascinating and very different from the many authors who I have interviewed at writers’ festivals and elsewhere. In my experience, authors generally speak about the story that they have to tell, regardless of who it’s for. An example is John Boyne and his masterpiece The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, which has found its own audience. Matt is surprised that more authors don’t target their readerships more strategically. I believe that there is probably a place for both approaches.
Matt makes it easy for buyers and browsers to find his books on bookshelves. He uses block colours such as blue, green or purple on his covers. He recognises that yellow is the strongest colour in the spectrum and will feature this on the spines of his upcoming ‘Funny Kid’ series. The book covers in this series will all feature an enormous face to distinguish them from other funny series aimed at middle grade who show smaller characters. Our brains will also register that these faces are looking at us in bookstores and libraries, drawing our attention.
Matt’s website includes a virtual ‘Stretch Your Imagination’ book tour. He also has a YouTube channel that is very popular with his young readers.
Matt reminded us that we’re in a golden age of children’s publishing in Australia. In 2016, children’s and young adult book sales took 44% of the total book market in volume. In 2016, 9 of our 10 top authors wrote children’s/YA. Last year, 9 million more children’s/YA books were sold than in 2005.
Thanks to keynote speaker, Matt, the Australian Publishers Association, host Allen & Unwin and Fiona Stager and her team for organising this very informative event.
When reading a book by Julie Hunt I feel like I’m entering into an uncanny world, where imagination seeps into the interstices of reality. Julie is the author of The Coat (illustrated by Ron Brooks), which won CBCA picture book of the year in 2013.
Her other major books are Precious Little (illustrated by Gaye Chapman), the Little Else series (illustrated by Beth Norling) and KidGlovz, which features in this interview. These books are published by Allen & Unwin.
Quality graphic novels for children are extremely rare and should be cherished. KidGlovz, written by Julie Hunt and illustrated by Dale Newman over four years, is an outstanding example of the form. It won the 2016 Queensland Literary Award and Dale was shortlisted for the 2016 Crichton Award as a debut book illustrator. Although sophisticated, reluctant readers also enjoy it.
The title of KidGlovz derives from the saying, ‘handle with kid gloves’. The protagonist, KidGlovz is a talented, fragile boy who is being raised for profit rather than nurtured. With insufficient food and while virtually a prisoner in his room, he is visited by tightrope walker, Shoestring, who frees him from avaricious guardian Dr Spin, exposing him instead to an external world of danger and adventure.
I met Julie at the State Theatre Café in Hobart last week. It seemed like a fitting, although subconscious, choice by Julie because KidGlovz begins as a theatre performance by the young precocious pianist. Fittingly, the Hobart theatre and café also adjoins a bookshop.
This was the perfect time for an interview because Julie has just had the go-ahead from her publisher Allen & Unwin (great supporters of the graphic novel) for Shoestring, the companion book to KidGlovz. Julie actually wrote it as a sequel soon after completing KidGlovz. It’s now less a sequel than a discrete work even though the characters of KidGlovz and, of course, Shoestring reappear and Julie is rewriting it so that it will become an illustrated, rather than ‘graphic’ novel. She is translating potential visual images and jokes into words but there will still be 100 pictures.
Shoestring will be published in 2018 and a third book will then be in the pipeline, featuring Sylvie Quickfingers, a stolen child prodigy who has a cameo at the end of KidGlovz.
Even though writing is ‘arduous and difficult’, Julie is ‘only interested if the work excites me’. When I asked Julie if her editor and publisher need to restrain her creative brain with its original perspective and perhaps prevent her from straying too far into a wondrous strangeness, she replied that they are formative, ‘They encourage me to go further’.
Julie’s picture book The Coat has been greatly acclaimed. Its illustrator, Ron Brooks, happens to live across the river from Julie, but The Coat was not a collaborative work – Ron illustrated Julie’s story after she wrote it.
Julie’s subconscious seems to be continuously at work, with the gloves being a recurring motif in both The Coat and KidGlovz. She’s often ‘not aware of this stuff till a bit later.’
Music is another motif rising throughout Julie’s books such as Song For a Scarlet Runner, winner of the inaugural Readings Children’s Book Prize and shortlisted for multiple prestigious awards. Julie studied the trumpet and sang Bulgarian folk music, which took her to ‘another realm’ and showcased her ‘larger than life self’ when she was on stage.
Secondary characters such as Splitworld Sam from KidGlovz and Siltman from Song For a Scarlet Runner are both otherworldly figures. Names, such as in Julie’s junior series Little Else, illustrated by Beth Norling, are important to Julie. She knows she’s not on the right track if she doesn’t have the right names for her characters.
It was a pleasure to meet this extremely talented author. Julie is a delightful person, with a generous smile and laugh. As a writer, Julie feels like the tightrope walker in the famous postcard by Quint Buccholz. She steps out and ‘hopes for the best’.
There were too many exciting books from the recent Penguin Random House roadshow in Sydney to outline in one post so here is Part 2. As well as many standout titles, we were privileged to hear from two YA authors, Fleur Ferris and Robert Newton.
Robert Newton spoke from the heart about his new novel Mr Romanov’s Garden in the Sky. It is an outstanding work, exceeding his Prime Minister’s Literary Award winning When We Were Two. It follows the sad and dangerous existence of Lexie in a Housing Commission Tower who lies to protect her drug-addicted mother. She saves old Mr Romanov from death after thugs throw his dog off the building. The story then becomes an original tale of friendship and hope.
Fleur Ferris is one of Australia’s best selling YA novelists and she is also a most delightful person. Her first novel Risk, a cautionary tale about online predators, is essential reading. It is wildly popular with teens and I reviewed it for the Weekend Australian here. I’ve also interviewed Fleur about Risk here for Boomerang Blog.
Fleur’s second novel Black was Australia’s best-selling ‘new release’ Oz YA book of the year for 2016. It is another a thriller, and incorporates a cult and unexpected ending. I reviewed it briefly for Boomerang Blog here.
Fleur’s third novel Wreck (note Fleur’s one word, one syllable titles, each ending in the letter ‘k’) will be published in July. It is also a thriller but has dual narrators and is set in two different time periods. It sounds like her best work yet and we will hear much more about it.
Other upcoming YA novels include Geekeralla by Ashley Poston from the U.S. (April), billed as a ‘fandom-fuelled twist on the classic fairytale’. Danielle encounters cos-play and her godmother works in a vegan food truck. I’ve read the beginning and can’t wait for the rest.
One of Us is Lying by debut novelist Karen M. McManus (June) is a U.K. title. There’s an omniscient narrator and one teen is murdered in detention with four others without anyone leaving the room.
Darren Groth returns after his triumph with Are You Seeing Me? in Exchange of Heart. Endearing character, Perry from the first novel returns and Down Syndrome is addressed.
Krystal Sutherland’s second novel appears quickly after Our Chemical Hearts. I’ve interviewed Krystal for the blog here. A Semi-definitive List of Worst Nightmares (September) explores phobias, particularly when Esther’s list of possible phobias is stolen, with strange results.
Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index (July) by U.K. author Julie Israel revolves around Juniper’s file cards of happy and unhappy experiences. But one card goes missing, the one thing that people can’t know about.
What reading extravagances we have in store.
(Author photo at top courtesy Fleur Ferris. From left to right, standing: Fleur Ferris, Belinda Murrell, Felice Arena, Robert Newton)
Picture book highlights for me were Anna Walker’s Florette, full of inviting greenery in the heart of Paris (March), The Catawampus Cat by Jason Carter Eaton and Gus Gordon (April), the retro colour palette of Stephen W. Martin’s Charlotte and the Rock (April), We’re All Wonders (April), an adaptation from R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, Deb Abela’s fractured fairytale, Wolfie: An Unlikely Hero (May), Marc Martin’s stylish design in What’s Up Top (September) and Pamela Allen’s A Bag and a Bird, which is set in Sydney (September).
Middle Fiction looks incredible. Felice Arena, author of popular series ‘Specky Magee’ and ‘Andy Roid’, enthusiastically told us about his stand-alone historical fiction, The Boy and the Spy (April). The Anglicised version of Felice (pronounced Fel-ee-chay) is Felix, meaning ‘happiness’, and Felice certainly demonstrated that.
The Boy and the Spy has family at its core, especially foster families. It is set in Sicily in 1945 and is for 10-12 year-old readers. It can be read at one level or the layers in its text can be uncovered. Felice hopes that it will inspire readers about travel, history and art. He loves writing ‘movement’ and has tried to emulate the stimulating experience given by teachers who read aloud and stop at the end of a chapter. Felice enjoyed researching and talking to relatives and has devised some entertaining Morse Code activities for school visits.
Other titles I can’t wait to read are Skye Melki-Wagner’s ‘Agent Nomad’ series (March) about a magical spy organisation with an Australian feel. I loved Skye’s stand-alone YA fantasy The Hush. Talented Gabrielle Wang has written and illustrated The Beast of Hushing Wood (April), another of Gabrielle’s original magical realist stories. I facilitated a session with Gabrielle at the Brisbane Writers Festival in the past and the children adored her. My favourite of her books are In the Garden of Empress Cassia and The Pearl of Tiger Bay.
Ally Condie returns with Summerlost (May), the irrepressible Oliver Phommavanh with Super Con-Nerd, Morris Gleitzman with Maybe (September) and Tristan Bancks with The Fall (June), a fast-paced thriller with disappearing characters. It will no doubt follow Tristan’s assured debut into literary-awarded fiction, Two Wolves. Tamara Moss’ Lintang and the Pirate Queen (September), a quest on the high seas, looks very appealing.
The charming Belinda Murrell spoke about her popular backlist of the ‘Sun Sword’ trilogy, timeslip tales and ‘Lulu Bell’ and introduced her new series for tweens, ‘Pippa’s Island’ (July), which reminded me of Nikki Gemmell’s ‘Coco Banjo’ but with more sand and sea.
And the wonderful Jacqueline Harvey’s ‘Alice-Miranda’ and ‘Clementine Rose’ series have sold 1 million copies in Australia and worldwide. We celebrated with a special cake.
A Shadow’s Breathby Nicole Hayes (Penguin Random House Australia) has just been published. Nicole spoke toBoomerang Books.
Where are you based and how are you involved in Australia’s YA lit community?
I am a Melbourne-based YA author and reader. The YA lit community in Melbourne is very open and embracing, and as an Ambassador to the Stella Schools Prize Program and a writing teacher, I get to meet lots of readers and writers at schools and festivals. When I’m not writing or teaching writing, I often work with other authors on their manuscripts.
What sports are you interested in?
A lot of sports, but I love AFL most of all. I used to play footy when I was a kid and became a rabid Hawthorn fan in my teens. My first novel, The Whole of My World, featured a teenage girl obsessed with footy, very loosely based on my experiences, and eventually led to my writing two more books about footy, and introduced me to the rest of the Outer Sanctum team – the all-female AFL podcast I’m involved in. I also watch a lot of soccer and Futsal because both my daughters are keen players.
Can you tell us about your other books?
The Whole of My World is about teenager Shelley Brown who is desperate to escape her grieving father and her own terrible secret. When she changes schools and a new friend introduces her to her footy heroes, Shelley’s passion for the game tips over into obsession, and she loses track of herself and all the things that matter in the process.
One True Thing is about 16 year old Frankie Mulvaney-Webb whose mum is the Premier of Victoria. But Frankie hates the spotlight. All she wants to do is lay low and focus on her rock band, but her life is turned upside down when photos of her mum in a secret rendezvous with a much younger man go viral.
The novel has two alternating narratives, depicting two different timeframes interwoven throughout until they merge into one near the end. The Now chapters tell of Tessa Gilham’s survival story following a car accident that has left her and her boyfriend Nick stranded in the middle of the Australian bush. The second narrative, the Then chapters, go back over the last days before the accident, uncovering what drove Tessa and Nick into the bush in the first place, revealing why Tessa is afraid to go home.
It’s a fascinating title. Could you give us an insight into it?
Once I decided that Tessa would be a painter, I became particularly interested in finding a title that reflected the many issues around light and colour. My research uncovered a lot about the relativity of colour, which emerged as a powerful theme throughout the novel. I became fascinated by colour and how we see it differently, how it’s a cultural construct as well as an individual one, but also the logistics of how it works – that it’s also about how light is reflected and how our brain processes this information. In the middle of this reading I remembered an Emily Dickinson poem, “A Certain Slant of Light”, and this stanza caught me:
When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath –
When it goes, ’tis like the Distance
On the look of Death –
That’s when the shadow made its way into the title. I played around with different phrasings, then stumbled on “a shadow’s breath”, which is also an expression that means the smallest thing, or the tiniest margin. I really liked the idea of that – because these tiny things, even as slight as a shadow’s breath – can change how we see things completely. And so often the difference between life and death is as small as a shadow’s breath – one step the wrong way, or seconds earlier or later… Whole lives can change at a whim. There’s so much power in that almost non-existent thing. I also love that it hints at something vaguely mystical and impossible to hold.
Tell us about the characters Tessa, Yuki and Nick.
Tessa Gilham is mostly a loner and feels like she doesn’t belong. She’s convinced that the town hates her and her mum, and she’s probably right to a point. But Tessa’s life is improving — her mum has kicked out her abusive ex-partner, and is sober again. Tessa wants to believe that life will be different, but she’s so fragile and damaged that she struggles to trust it to last. In the process of trying to heal, she rediscovers her love of painting and, between this therapeutic outlet and the blossoming friendships around her, her new boyfriend, Nick and the ever faithful Yuki, Tessa is beginning to find her feet.
Yuki Fraser is Tessa’s best friend and her one reliable companion. It was often the Fraser home where Tessa sought escape from her abusive home life. Yuki’s dad is the local cop, and an old friend of the Gilhams – he’s determined to protect Tessa and has worked hard to keep Ellen Gilham out of jail. Yuki’s mum and little sister treat Tessa like family. Always have. But Yuki is trying to find her own way too, and tension between the girls increases as Tessa leans more heavily on her boyfriend Nick, neglecting to be there for Yuki in the way Yuki has always been there for Tessa.
Nick Kostas is one of the “new kids” from St Catherine’s which has recently merged with Carrima High. He and Tessa have just started dating but because he’s so popular and successful, and a year ahead at school, Tessa isn’t entirely secure in their relationship, and struggles to understand why he would choose her over more likely girls. The fact that he’s about to move to the city to go to university doesn’t help the situation, despite Nick’s obvious devotion to her.
What is the importance of Tessa’s home life to the story?
Tessa and her mum are trying on this new life, and still finding their way back to each other. Ellen Gilham has only recently sent “the arsehole” packing, and is newly sober, but as it’s been so long since it was just the two of them together, Tessa and Ellen are still working out how to be a family.
Tessa has been responsible for herself for so long that she isn’t sure how to let Ellen mother her, and Ellen is weighed down with guilt and regret that she let things continue for as long as she did. A guilt that Tessa feels is, mostly, deserved. Damaged and hurt, Tessa is struggling to forgive her mother, while the fragile Ellen wants only to earn back her daughter’s trust.
How important is the concept of ‘shouganai’ (surrender) in the narrative?
It was one of the first meaningful phrases I learnt in Japanese when I was living there many years ago, and it always stayed with me. It has different interpretations – positive and negative – but when Yuki’s mum says it, there’s a certain dignity and grace attached to accepting what – or who — can’t be changed. Specifically, accepting those you love for who they are – warts and all. In A Shadow’s Breath, I twisted its use to apply to people and their situation, but I love the bravery inherent in that. The idea of stepping back and letting things play out as they’re intended.
What role does art play?
For Tessa, art is her saving grace. Through her art she is able to find her way back to her childhood and begin to process and understand what happened to her. Her painting offers an outlet but also a means through which she can develop self-belief and start to accept her own worth. It also provides a connection with her new friends, and an opportunity to express herself, to earn these new friendships, particularly with Nick, who admires her work and envies her talent. Through their appreciation and admiration, she begins to look to the future for the first time.
Have any responses from your readers particularly resonated with you?
The story idea emerged at least partly from my encounters with young people whose own homes are not the haven they’re meant to be, and I really wanted their stories to be heard too. Since the novel came out, I’ve had several readers message to congratulate me on how I have depicted the reality of an abusive family and the challenges for those left behind. It’s genuinely humbling to be told that Tessa’s experience feels authentic to those who have had a similar life.
What other books have left a deep impression on you?
So many! The book that continues to shake me, no matter how many times I read it, is The Road by Cormac McCarthy. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, McCarthy manages to depict a harrowing and bleak world of post-apocalyptic America in such sparse and beautiful language that I have found myself rereading passages too many times to count. But beyond the writing itself, the story depicts possibly the purist kind of parental love – it is a story about a dying man and his young son attempting to travel south to avoid an almost certainly lethal winter – and yet it never once uses the word love. There’s barely an expression of emotion in the whole novel. And yet it makes me cry like a baby every time I read it. I shiver even now just thinking about it.
Thanks for your generous and insightful responses, Nicole, and all the best with A Shadow’s Breath.
Some of the best YA novels I have read recently span contemporary realism to fantasy, past to future, New York City to Ireland.
Two of the authors I’ve reviewed here will be making appearances at the excellent Reading Matters conference in Melbourne (see more at the end of these reviews). Another is about to arrive in Australia.
The Callby Peadar Ó Guilín (David Fickling Books) is set in an alternate Ireland. Nessa and her cohort know that this is the year when they will be ‘called’ for a life-changing three minutes by the Sidhe, avenging fairies who have been forced ‘under the mounds’ by humans. Nessa has the extra difficulty of a damaged left leg but she throws herself into the physical and psychological training all the young people endure to give them a chance of escaping and returning. Any who return have been damaged in some way. Will Nessa be the exception? The Call is atmospheric, chilling and highly imaginative. Its originality and brilliance are unforgettable.
Peadar is about to make appearances at, at least, one Australian bookshop and the Perth Writers’ Festival this month.
The Sun is Also a Starby Nicola Yoon (Corgi, Penguin Random House) is shooting up ‘best of’ lists. Natasha and her family live in New York City but are about to be deported to Jamaica. On her way to a last minute attempt to revert the decision, Natasha meets Daniel, a gorgeous Korean-American with a ponytail who breaks the mould.
Holding Up the Universe takes us inside the life of Libby Strout, who starts high school after being homeschooled because of her obesity. She encounters beautiful Jack Masselin, who has prosopagnosia (a condition which appears in another recent excellent book which, for ‘spoiler’ reasons I can’t reveal here yet). Jack can’t recognise faces. The narrative explores both Libby and Jack’s universes, and how they intersect.
Glory O’Brien’s History of the Futureby A.S. King (Little Brown, Hachette) takes us further afield, into the future, as well as the present. Glory and her best friend Ellie, who lives on a commune, drink a petrified bat, which gives them visions of the future. Like Juliet in Bridget Kemmerer’s upcoming Letters to the Lost, Glory has lost her mother and makes sense of her world through photography. Glory O’Brien is a slow-burning and original piece of writing. Exceptional.
A.S. King and Jennifer Niven are both speaking at Reading Matters conference in Melbourne in June. Link here. What an opportunity to hear these brilliant authors.
Meet Julia Lawrinson, author of Before You Forget,Penguin Australia
Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Julia.
Where are you based and what’s your background in books?
I am based in Western Australia, and I’ve published thirteen novels for children and young adults (lucky thirteen, I hope!)
I really enjoyed your 2006 YA novel, Bye Beautiful . Could you tell us about this and some of your other writing?
Most of my books are realistic, contemporary novels. Bye, Beautiful is set in the wheatbelt in 1966, and so is a departure from that. It is about a policeman’s family, and what happens when two sisters fall in love with the same boy, who happens to be Aboriginal. Although it is fiction, it is based on my mother’s story: my grandfather was a policeman who became officer in charge of the North West before he retired, and his strong personality and morality has had a lasting effect on his family. I feel I work best as a writer when I have a strong emotional connection to what I’m writing about.
My earliest work was very ‘gritty’: dealing with bogan high schools and adolescent psychiatric hospitals. Those stories resonated a lot with readers, and were stories that needed to be told.
Your new novel Before You Forget has a devastating personal connection for you. Could you tell us about the genesis of this novel?
The novel was written in response to seeing the suffering that my daughter went through when her father developed early onset Alzheimer’s disease, which began as she was starting high school. It wasn’t just the loss of memory that was an issue: his whole personality changed, and he went through periods of being anxious and angry by turns, which was difficult for both me and my daughter. He would give money away, invite perfect strangers home, almost cause accidents when he was driving without the slightest awareness of it. He refused to see doctors, and when he finally did, they suspected he had depression, alcoholism and various other things until he saw a specialist. Being there with him when he was diagnosed remains the most awful day of my life.
It was incredibly painful for my daughter to see the father she knew disappear in this way, and nobody really seemed to understand. The only person who truly got it was her friend Gemma, whose mother had the same disease, and who tragically died the week the book was released. I want people to understand the impact of diseases like Alzheimer’s on the kids in the family, to have empathy for the extended grief such conditions create.
What is the most terrifying thing about Alzheimer’s?
That it strips away what defines you as yourself. Annie’s dad’s defining feature was his intelligence. It was so awful to see that disappear. Although he’s retained his sense of humour to the end.
How has the book helped your family?
It’s been cathartic, being able to describe some of the things that happened, and to reclaim some of what we lost through the story. The situations in the novel are common to most families where a parent develops Alzheimer’s or similar neurological diseases, so hopefully it will provide a sort of sense of community.
How can others help families in this situation?
By asking what they need. People often want to come in and take control, or offer what they think is best, but it’s really important to listen to what would make the family’s life easier. It will be different for everyone. Also, to be respectful of people’s emotions: taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s is an emotional rollercoaster. I remember someone saying to me early on that Alzheimer’s was a beautiful thing, which felt like being slapped in the face. Teenagers with parents with Alzheimer’s can become very impatient and frustrated, but this doesn’t mean they don’t love their parent. It means they are dealing with the grief of dealing with a parent who is no longer who they used to be.
Who are your favourite artists?
Visual artists? Monet, Van Gogh, Rene Magritte, Brett Whitely, Frida Kahlo, Jeffrey Smart, Margaret Olley.
The protagonist, Amelia, loves art. How have you used art to reflect Amelia’s experiences?
I tried to have Amelia’s struggle to express herself as an artist parallel her difficulties in expressing her feelings about what is happened to her and her dad. Amelia is quite self-contained, but her art shows what is important to her.
How have you incorporated 9/11 into the story?
Amelia obsessively watches 9/11 footage, reads about it, tries to imagine what it would have been like to be there. To her, it is her personal disaster writ large. Instead of having something slow and invisible up-end your life, there is something fast, immediate and visual. But she also learns that it is not just one story: there are lots of stories out of 9/11, including stories of hope and bravery and fellow-feeling.
Amelia’s best friend Gemma has a problem. Could you tell us about this?
Gemma develops an eating disorder almost by accident: she begins dieting and then finds herself on a path she can’t get off. I’ve seen this happen with a lot of young people, and it happened to me as a teenager. You can’t mess with restricting food: once you start, the problems you may have been using food to deal with get magnified. Amelia can’t understand it, because to her Gemma has everything, and she is also upset that Gemma can’t appreciate Amelia’s serious problems. They can’t help each other, in a sense, because of what’s going on in their own lives, but they do try to find a way back to each other.
I should note that I used my daughter’s best friend’s name with permission in the novel, but the real Gemma bears no resemblance to the fictional one!
Amelia’s neighbour, Will, plays chess and one of your earlier books is called Chess Nuts. Why have you used chess in your YA novel, rather than another pastime or point of contact?
Again, this was part of the autobiographical aspect of the novel: my daughter played chess, and her dad was a chess coach (which is how Chess Nuts came about). It was also one of the first things that alerted me to his mental decline: a man who remembered every move of his year seven chess final to suddenly forget how to move a knight. It was a clear sign something was wrong.
What other books have left a deep impression on you?
I read a lot of books featuring bodily or mental illness when I was a teenager. Lois Lowry’s A Summer to Die had a big impact on me, as did The Bell Jar, A Patch of Blue by Elizabeth Kata, and Second Star to the Right by Deborah Hautzig.
Thanks very much, Julia, and all the best with your new book and your family. Your story will no doubt help many others.
Award long and short lists continue to showcase our excellent Australian contemporary literature, much of which is written by female authors. Peggy Frew’s superlative Hope Farm (Scribe) has just been longlisted for the 2017 International Dublin Literary award and this year has already been longlisted for the Indie Book award and shortlisted for the Miles Franklin, Stella Prize, Australian Book Designers’ award and won the Barbara Jefferis award.
Hope Farm is narrated by thirteen-year old Silver who lives a peripatetic life, moving each time her mother Ishtar’s relationship breaks down. They follow Miller from warm Queensland to freezing Victoria but the situation becomes inflammatory.
An unnamed character’s point of view is revealed in notebooks. These entries describe a naïve, poorly educated young woman who falls pregnant and is cast out of her family, taking refuge in an ashram.
The descriptions of the Australian bush are tactile and inspired. The sense of dread is perfectly crafted. The character of Silver is portrayed as longing, awkward and yet knowing, as befits a girl with vulnerable and disrupted life experiences.
Another outstanding work of literary fiction still being nominated for awards this year is A Guide to Berlin (Penguin Random House Australia) by Gail Jones.
Protagonist Cass meets regularly with five other foreigners in Berlin who share their lives through story. The writing is exquisite. There are references throughout to the work of Vladimir Nabokov who “likened the bishop’s move (in chess) to a torchlight, scanning in the dark, swinging into angles”. There are butterfly motifs and exploration of rich words used by Nabokov such as “lemniscate” – the shape of infinity; “conchometrist” – one who measures the curves of seashells and “drisk” – a drizzly European rain. The novel’s title also comes from a short story by Nabokov. The beautifully crafted insights remind me that I need to re-read Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game.
A Guide to Berlin has been shortlisted for the 2016 NSW Premier’s awards, longlisted for the 2016 Stella Prize, ABIA awards and the Sisters in Crime 2016 Davitt award. In October it won the 2016 Colin Roderick Award.
Two other acclaimed books, which I applaud for their fine writing, are The Life of Houses (Giramondo) by Lisa Gorton (which jointly won the 2016 Prime Minister’s Award for Fiction with Charlotte’s Woods’ The Natural Way of Things – reviewed here), and Between a Wolf and a Dog (Scribe) by Georgia Blain (which has just been shortlisted for the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction and won the 2016 Qld Literary Award for Fiction).
Like Hope Farm, The Life of Houses is a dual narrative, one strand of which is from the viewpoint of a teenage girl, Kit. Her mother, Anna, is a most unlikeable character.
Georgia Blain’s writing in Between a Wolf and a Dog has a sparkling clarity and beauty. It addresses euthanasia. It is devastating that this gifted writer has just been felled by cancer.
Between them these books have won and been long and shortlisted for many awards. We no doubt have a surfeit of fine Australian contemporary female writers of literary fiction.