Under the Christmas Tree Part 6 – Tis better to give than receive

It’s almost time to step away from the desk and wrap up the year. What a year it’s been, brimful of incredible stories and pictures, all of which have been a delight to share with you. It is, as they say; better to give than receive, so here are some final last minute helpful hints for something worth tucking under the Christmas tree.

was-not-me Was Not Me! by Shannon Horsfall

This fits the Naught but Nice list. Perfect for the school holidays, this picture book by talented newcomer, Shannon Horsfall will have kids swinging from the chandeliers and surging through the high seas with her calamitous Not Me character. He is cheeky and illusive and always hangs the blame for the mess on the carpet or the floods in the bathroom on his twin brother, Me. Mum suspects foul play and is not so easily fooled.

was-not-me-illos-spreadKids and mischief is a mix that portends all sorts of hilarious possibilities. Horsfall has managed to bottle that common go-to-get-out-of-jail card-catch-cry that kids so frequently use, ‘Was not me!’ with lightly rhyming humour and very likeable illustrations. Something fun for bored would-be house wreckers these holidays aged four to eight.

Harper Collins Children’s Books July 2016

twigTwig by Aura Parker

Another author illustrator production this time by Aura Parker whose unique organically inspired illustrations turn this gentle story about making friends and starting school into an obvious holiday choice for four to six-year-olds.

Heidi is a stick insect. She is tall and slender and blends in incredibly well with her surroundings so much so that she goes virtually unnoticed by all those around her. Such anonymity does not bode well for a creature as unassuming as Heidi and she fails to make an impact on her new classmates or even her energetic teacher, Mrs Orb. Dejected and miserable, it is not until Scarlett inadvertently unearths Heidi’s indignation that the rest see Heidi for who and what she is for the first time. From then on, the webs of friendship begin to spin.

twig-and-aura-parkerTwig is a sweet tale about finding the confidence to embark on new adventures. It is also a glorious detailed experience of visual discovery. Each of the end papers is crawling with critters and bugs of every description with prompts to seek them out. Twig is a marvellous way of getting real with bugs with a captivating nod to counting, species classification, biology, and colour. A picture book to truly pour over.

Scholastic Press November 2016

elephants-have-wingsElephants Have Wings by Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro

We have reviewed this one before (read Julie Fison’s encounter with Susanne Gervay, here) but it’s worth special mention and a prime place under the Christmas tree.

At a time in our history when there should be no child that suffers comes this powerful picture book by the accomplished team of Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro. Based partly on the ancient parable the Blind Men and the Elephant, this outstanding work is suffused with elegance, immense spirit and a beauty that young children will recognise and draw from even if they are not able to comprehend the complexities that lie within each page.

My daughter was nine when she first read it and stated, ‘It is great out of the box thinking isn’t it? I mean, who would have thought that elephants could fly.’ Indeed, capturing the essence of the blind men and the elephant in a picture book is one thing. Exhibiting it with such exquisite heart and sensitivity as the team of Gervay and Pignataro do is higher than commendable.

The journey of discovery begins one night as two young siblings beg their father for a bedtime tale. This particular night he tells their grandfather’s story, thus spanning the generations. From his recount, we learn of a group of children from varying cultural backgrounds intent on going out one dark night in search of a secret. They each find part of something, each certain they are right in their assumption of what it is, each unwilling to accept that their interpretation of their discovery whilst subjectively correct in one instance could also be part some bigger picture. They ‘argued until everyone was angry’ – my favourite line in the book, also one of the most disparagingly accurate of observations. It is not until grandfather appears with his candlelight that the children discover that each of them ‘was right, but also wrong’ and the magnificent elephant is revealed.

But what of the secret? As brother and sister embark upon the elephant’s sturdy back and soar with him over the many glorious fabrics of their world, they come to appreciate not only the beauty that surrounds them but also the cracks that threaten that beauty, until finally they arrive home, conscious now of their differences and sameness.

elephants-have-wings-illos-spreadThe subtle nuances so intricately and delicately woven into this creation are numerous. Pignataro’s textured, collaged illustrations, lift and transport, defying gravity and borders. They convey a rich tapestry of multiculturalism, religion, and ultimately, Nirvana – a divine realisation of self and the ability to see past fear, a call to reach out for harmony. The use of the colours of the Chakra, of pages drained of any pigment and then restored, provide reasons to clutch tightly to life, ride out derision, to hope – to forge forward.

Gervay’s impossibly expressive narrative articulates confusion, disaccord, reconciliation, and understanding, prompting young readers to ponder and question all that which they see (and hear) around them. To paraphrase the words of George R R Martin ‘Just open your eyes… is all that is needing. The eyes see true…then comes the thinking and in that knowing the truth.’

Supremely brave, eloquent and masterful, Elephants Have Wings will initiate discussion over many shared readings; it is one to treasure and grow with.

Ford Street Publishing October 2014

Find your elephant within as soon as you possibly can.

Cherish your Christmas moments. Give a Book. Read lots!

See you in 2017!

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Christmas shopping list

 

Queues, dodgy carols, aching legs, confusion over what size feet my nephew has. Not for me, this Christmas. This year I’m avoiding the festive-season shopping chaos and buying everyone a book and a pig (or maybe an orangutan). Here’s what my Christmas list looks like.

For my Teen Son: Legacy by Tim Cahill

LegacyBlurb: The story of one of the most admired Australian sportsmen,  international football star Tim Cahill. With his trademark honesty and directness, Tim reflects on what it takes to make it to the top – the sacrifices, the physical cost, the mental stamina, the uncompromising self-belief and self-determination, the ruthlessness, but also the decency, the integrity, and the generosity. An autobiography that is more than a record of the goals and the games, Tim Cahill’s story is a universal reminder of the importance of making your moment count.

For my other Teen Son: Rich and Rare, edited by Paul Collins

Rich & RareBlurb: A collection of stories and artwork from Australia’s best loved writers and illustrators.  With pieces by Shaun Tan, Leigh Hobbs, James Roy, Justin D’Ath, Kirsty Murray, Simon Higgins, Gary Crew, Scot Gardner, there’s something for everyone.

For my Hubbie: A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James

A brief history of seven killingsBlurb: A Brief History of Seven Killings chronicles the lives of a host of unforgettable characters – slum kids, one-night stands, drug lords, girlfriends, gunmen, journalists, and even the CIA. Gripping and inventive, ambitious and mesmerising, A Brief History of Seven Killings is one of the most remarkable and extraordinary novels of the twenty-first century.

For my Dad: Napoleon’s Last Island by Tom Keneally

Napoleon's Last IslandBlurb: Betsy Balcombe as a young woman lived with her family on St Helena. They befriended, served and were ruined by their relationship with Napoleon. To redeem the family’s fortunes William Balcombe, Betsy’s father, betrays Napoleon and accepts a job as the colonial treasurer of NSW, but William never recovers from the ups and downs of association with Napoleon. Tom Keneally, with his gift for bringing historical stories to life, shares this remarkable friendship and the beginning of an Australian dynasty.

For my Mum: The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks

The Secret ChordBlurb: A unique and vivid novel that retells the story of King David’s extraordinary rise to power and fall from grace. With stunning originality, acclaimed author Geraldine Brooks offers us a compelling portrait of a morally complex hero from this strange age – part legend, part history. Full of drama and richly drawn detail, The Secret Chord is a vivid story of faith, family, desire and power that brings David magnificently alive.

For my God-daughter: The Red Queen, by Isobelle Carmody

The Red QueenBlurb: The time has come at last for Elspeth Gordie to leave the Land on her quest to find and stop the computermachine Sentinel from unleashing the deadly Balance of Terror arsenal. But before she can embark on her quest, she must find a lost key; and although she has long prepared for this day, nothing is as she imagined. This is the final, dramatic volume in series of books that undoubtedly shines as one of the most fantastic, and fantastical, tapestries ever woven.

For my Nephew: Two Wolves, by Tristan Banks

Two WolvesBlurb: One afternoon, police officers show up at Ben Silver’s front door. Minutes after they leave, his parents arrive home. Ben and his little sister Olive are bundled into the car and told they’re going on a holiday. But are they? It doesn’t take long for Ben to realise that his parents are in trouble. Ben’s always dreamt of becoming a detective – his dad even calls him ‘Cop’. Now Ben gathers evidence and tries to uncover what his parents have done. The problem is, if he figures it out, what does he do? Tell someone? Or keep the secret and live life on the run?

For my Niece: The Call of the Wild – Choose Your Own Ever After, by Julie Fison (a very good read, even if I do say so myself)

The Call of the Wild - Choose Your Own Ever AfterBlurb: Phoebe Wright and her besties, Annabel and Kimmi have been invited to the coolest party of the year! But when Phoebe realises it’s on the same night as her Wild Club’s movie-night fundraiser, she’s totally torn about what to do. In this pick-a-path story, the reader gets to decide how the story goes.

Save the OrangutansFor everyone: Pigs and Goats by World Vision or Orangutans by Save the Orangutan.

Merry Christmas!

Julie xx

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Art of Story – Festivals and anthologies in review

Rich and RareEditor, publisher, author, and all round busy guy, Paul Collins describes his latest anthology as ‘a sumptuous literary feast’ in which ‘no one will go away hungry, as the collection is a literary banquet with something for everyone.’ If that doesn’t whet your appetite for the collection of Australian stories, poetry and artwork that is, Rich and Rare, then spend a few moments ingesting Julie Fison’s interview with him as they dissect the intricacies of this collection.

His description, I feel also encapsulates the essence of our Australian literary landscape, so admirably showcased a couple of weeks ago at the 19th Story Arts Festival of Children’s Literature iPaul Collinsn Ipswich. This biennial Queensland festival is for adults and young adults be they teachers, librarians, or emerging writers and illustrators aiming to heighten awareness in the creative arts of writing and illustration and help build and maintain increased audiences for children’s literature. The school kids involved really loved it too.

I found the Story Arts Festival nothing short of inspirational and one of the most relaxed, enriching and informative conferences I have experienced. Like the anthology, Rich and Rare, it treated participating creators to a vast and delicious array of art, insight, and entertainment. Many of the contributors to this anthology participated at this year’s Story Arts. Many more are past presenting veterans of the festival. Here is but a sampler of some of the tantalising talent served up; the guest list is stupendously long and illustrious with the likes of Shaun Tan, Gary Crew, Justin D’Ath, Tania McCartney, Gabrielle Wang, and Tracey Hawkins to drop just a few.

I'm a Dirty Dinosaur Janeen Brian award winning multi-genre children’s author whose Rich and Rare story, The Art of Illusion inspires wonder and magic in young minds. With illustrators, Ann James, Matt Ottley, Terry Denton and fellow authors, Mark Greenwood and Tony Palmer, she revealed the fun and frustrations behind creations such as her phenomenally successful I’m a Dinosaur picture book series, whilst striving to increase literacy in children through entertaining literary content.

 Oliver Phommavanh is another such entertainer dishing up platefuls sensitive story lines liberally garnished with loads of laughs. What kid can resist temptations like those? Following his riotous expose of being an Aussie kid with Thai parents in suburban Australia with Thai-riffic! and Thai-no-mite, Phommavanh continues to slap out the humour with Stuff Happens: Ethan and Con-nerd. His short Rich and Rare tale, My Brother’s Keeper displays Phommavanh’s trademark observational wit in a devastatingly touching, contemporary way.

Veiled Secrets Archimede Fussillo is another first-generation Australian this time sporting an Italian heritage. His impressive range of mid-grade readers and YA novels further enriches the diverse reading fodder of Australian’s youth. He appeared at the festival with Josie Montano to launch their co-authored collaborative novel, Veiled Secrets, published by US Solstice. He penned the poignant and heart-tugging, The Bravest Person I Know for Rich and Rare.

Just a Dog Michael Gerard Bauer is a Queensland author equally at home with humour. His series include the Ishmael trilogy, Eric Vale and Derek ‘Danger’ Dale stories running from the sublime to the snort-out-loud-ridiculous. Eric Vale Epic Fail was adapted into a stage play by THAT Production Company this year and played for the first time to Festival audiences with rousing success. His standout works include Just a Dog and The Running Man, which was CBCA Book of the Year in 2004. Both are stories of achingly plaintive prose embedded with incredible heart and soul. He returns to hilarity in Rich and Rare with the short story, The Knitting Needle Ninja.

Hunter's Moon Sophie Masson’s repertoire of fantasy, mystery, thriller, and even graphic novels stretches further than a giant’s smorgasbord. She is master of coping with change following a fluctuating home base as a child (her parents alternated between France and Australia to live) and now the necessity of author adaption in the digital age, the subject she addressed at Story Arts. Her dark and treacherous reimagined Snow White novel, Hunter’s Moon appeared earlier this year. She compares the Rich and Rare anthology to an intricately fashioned patchwork quilt, ‘a strikingly unusual and complex yet satisfying and simple thing’.

Amply satisfying it is too, and like the Story Arts festival, ably fulfils its objective to capture and preserve the attention of a wider reading audience. Anthologies may not be widely popular to publish but when they showcase talent such as that embodied in Rich and Rare and are able to sustain readers with stories of such exquisite delectableness, they really are too good to pass up. Stack your plate high and celebrate the art of story.

Rich & rare InviteSoutherners are invited to meet many of the contributors at Ford Street Publishing’s exciting launch of Rich and Rare next Friday, 23rd October, Abbotsford, Victoria.

Ford Street Publishing October 2015

 

A beauty – Rich and Rare

RIch and Rare cover Med ResThere really is something for everyone in Ford Street Publishing’s latest collection of Australian stories, poetry and artwork for teens – Rich and Rare. With pieces from almost 50 fab authors and illustrators, including Shaun Tan, Judith Rossell, Susanne Gervay, Gary Crew, Justin D’Ath and Michael Gerard Bauer (to mention a few), the anthology delivers tantalizing morsels to suit every reading taste. There’s an alien invasion, a Dickensian-style thriller, a warrior adventure in old Japan, a bushranger tale, intrigue in the cane fields of northern Queensland and much, much more.

Editor Paul Collins joins me ahead of next month’s book launch to take us inside Rich and Rare and to reflect on his own prolific and successful career as a writer, editor and publisher. Paul is best known for his fantasy and science fiction titles which include The Jelindel ChroniclesThe Quentaris Chronicles ─ co-edited with Michael Pryor, and The Warlock’s Child, done in collaboration with Sean McMullen. He also runs Ford Street Publishing and the Creative Net Speakers’ Agency.

JF: Congratulations, on Rich and Rare, Paul. What a line-up of Australian talent! What can readers expect from this collection?

PC: I’d like to think a sumptuous literary feast. No one will go away hungry, as the collection is a literary banquet with something for everyone.

JF: How does it compare to others anthologies you’ve edited?

PC: Anthologies aren’t as easy to put together as they might seem. An editor starts off with a list of potential contributors. I’ve been lucky in as much that most of my list this time around contributed illustrations, stories or poems. Across the three anthologies I’ve edited lately, I think everyone I’ve approached is represented. But not one of the collections has everyone. So too people reading Rich and Rare will be happy to see some contributors lacking in the other anthologies, but on the reverse mystified that others are missing. This collection is more illustrative and has longer and more varied works. This will please some, and perhaps disappoint others. So in answer to your question, it’s very subjective. A creator’s latest work is always their “best” work.

JF: What are the challenges of editing such a large collection of stories, poems and artwork?

PAUL-COLLINS-PC: Most contributors aren’t precious about their stories being edited. Those who are can be difficult. Working with up to fifty creatives can be challenging – remembering of course I’m working with many others at the same time. And because an editor says a story should follow this or that path, doesn’t necessarily mean the editor is right. It can be subjective. Stories especially vary in quality, and it’s the editor’s job to get some rough stones and polish them to gem standard. Hopefully, and with the help of several others here at Ford Street, I’ve managed to do this.

JF: You’re a writer, editor and publisher – how do you fit it all in? 

PC: I think I’ve edited around a dozen anthologies. This doesn’t include 45 collections Meredith Costain and I edited for Pearson (Spinouts and Thrillogies). I’ve published around 100 + books over the years, and written around 150. Running Creative Net Speakers’ Agency and the seminars/festivals does keep me busy!

JF: What are you currently working on? 

PC: Right now I have three plays and two short story collections (the latter in collaboration with Meredith Costain) coming out from other publishers. This year I published around 16 books. I have my first 2016 title, Dance, Bilby, Dance, by Tricia Oktober, ready to go to the printer.

JF: How did you get started as a writer and what led you to publishing?

PC: I self-published my first novel at the age of nineteen. Realising it wasn’t good enough, I figured I’d move into publishing other people’s work. I published Australia’s first heroic/epic fantasy novels in the early 80s. I also published science fiction books. Losing distribution I returned to writing. My first book was published by HarperCollins in 1995.

JF: You’re best known for your fantasy and science fiction writing – what appeals about those genres?

PC: They’re as far away from contemporary as you can get. I think we live the lives of those people we read in contemporary novels, so why read about them? I can’t imagine why people watch TV shows like East Enders and Coronation Street, or the spate of reality TV shows. Big Brother for example must have been one of the most boring shows anyone could watch. And that’s what I feel about contemporary fiction.

JF: Does your personal passion affect your publishing decisions?

PC: No. I have published contemporary fiction, for example. I don’t just stick to fantasy and science fiction. If I think something has quality and there’s a market for it, I have to make a commercial decision.

JF: What do you wish you’d known when you started?

PC: The massive database I’ve built up over the years, contacts with book clubs and others who buy bulk books. Basically, knowledge that you need to be successful. Alas, unless someone sits down and gives you a list, you need to find all this stuff out yourself. And that takes years.

JF: What’s your advice for aspiring writers?

PC: Persistence is the key. The Wizard’s Torment was my first book – that’s the one that sold to HarperCollins. I had written it in the early 80s. It took me around twelve years to get it published. I wrote another book at the same time called The Earthborn. That was rejected by just about every publisher in Australia. An agent sent it to TOR in the US and sold sold the trilogy over there. I mentally thanked every Australian publisher that had rejected it. Just never give up.

JF: Thanks Paul, and good luck with Rich and Rare!

PC: Thanks, Julie.

Paul Collins has edited many anthologies including Trust Me!, Metaworlds and Australia’s first fantasy anthology, Dream Weavers. He also edited The MUP Encyclopaedia of Australian SF&F. Paul has been short-listed for many awards and has won the Inaugural Peter McNamara and the A Bertram Chandler awards, both of which were for lifetime achievement in science fiction, and the Aurealis and William Atheling awards. His book, Slaves of Quentaris, features in 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Die (UK, 2009).

Paul Collins website.

Ford Street Publishing website. 

Julie Fison writes for children and young adults. Her books include the Hazard River adventure series for young readers, Choose Your Own Ever After, a pick-a-path series that lets the reader decide how the story goes, and Counterfeit Love for young adults. Her latest short story – Sugar is Sweet is in Rich and Rare.  

 

Christmas wish list

Christmas holidays are all about catching up with friends and family, and catching up on all the books that I haven’t had a chance to read during the year. I’m not a fan of reading on the beach – too sunny, too many kids to watch, too many friends to chat with. But once I settle into a shady spot with a good book, I can get lost for hours. Maybe a little too lost.

EyrieLast summer, on the hottest day of the year, I was immersed in Tim Winton’s Eyrie, under a shady ghost gum, when I noticed something moving out of the corner of my eye. A snake had made its way onto the arm of my sun lounger and was staring at me, flicking its tongue, inquisitively. I was so absorbed in Eyrie that I hadn’t even noticed, until the snake was centimetres from my face. I hurled myself off the chair and the snake took off in the other direction. A nasty interruption to my relaxing afternoon.

Once again this year my Christmas wish list will be filled with books, but I might just glance around now and then, when I’m reading, no matter how engaging the story is.

Here’s what’s on my wish list:

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

9781741666700I can’t wait to get into this Man Booker Prize winning novel, which my fellow blogger, Jon Page, recently reviewed.

“Richard Flanagan has written a tragic love story, a deconstruction of heroism and mateship, and captured a side of humanity I’ve never read before. Wars, according to our history books, have beginnings and ends but for those who take part in wars, who are swept up in its maelstrom, there is no beginning or end. There is only life. And the damage war causes must be endured by those lucky or unlucky enough to survive it.”

The Writing Life by David Malouf

The Writing LifeDavid Malouf examines the work of writers who have challenged, inspired and entertained us for generations – from Christina Stead, Les Murray and Patrick White to Proust, Shakespeare and Charlotte Bronte. He also looks at his own work and the life of the writer, where the danger is spending too much time talking about writing and not enough doing it.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel

I am a huge fan of Hilary Mantel – the double Man Booker Prize-winning author of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. The Assassination of Margaret ThatcherHer portraits of Thomas Cromwell’s England are epic historical tales, so I’m intrigued to delve into this collection of short stories, which promise to summon the horrors so often concealed behind everyday facades. 

The Wife Drought by Annabel Crabb

The Wife DroughtUbiquitous journalist, Annabel Crabb takes a new angle on the work-family balance debate, by bringing working men into the picture. She asks why we have become fixated on the barriers that women face progressing in the workplace, and forgotten about the barriers that still block the exits for men? The Wife Drought is peppered with candid anecdotes from Crabb’s own work-family juggling act, is a thoughtful addition to the equality discussion and a call for a ceasefire in the gender wars.

I’d love to hear what’s on your wish list. Happy reading.

Julie

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

A visit from Dianne Bates

When Counterfeit Love, my latest book for young adults, came out this year, I have to admit to suffering a little fatigue. I’d had eleven books published in four years, and was feeling like I’d just finished an ultra marathon. But when I look around at my fellow children’s authors, I realise I’m just ambling along.

dianne-batesToday I welcome an author who has more than 120 titles to her name. Dianne Bates has a flair for humour, but has delved into some very disturbing topics in her young adult fiction. Bates has drawn from personal experience in her work, including her latest book – The Girl in the Basement – which tells the story of a girl abducted and held in a basement, awaiting her fate.

Here, she answers some questions about her work.

You’ve written more than a hundred books, across lots of topics, but your YA books seem to focus on very dark themes – abandonment, self-harm and kidnap. Why is that?

Most of my fiction books for younger readers are humorous! I guess the darker issues are something that I feel suit teens who are transitioning into the adult world and so often suffer much angst. During my adolescent years I knew abandonment and the feeling of being trapped, also I self-harmed. It’s said that one should write about what one knows, so I often draw on my life experiences when I write social-realism (which is most of the time).

Can you explain the inspiration for your latest book – The Girl in the Basement?

The Girl in the BasementAs a child I lived in a household of domestic violence and was constantly in fear of what might happen next, so I could well relate to the experiences of a teenage girl who is trapped physically and psychologically. I also had first-hand experience of an unpredictable man in my life so you could say I didn’t need to do much research but could draw on my childhood memories.

I read a lot of crime fiction and real-life crime books which I found helpful in creating the life and mind of a criminal (the book is told from two points of view). In researching specifically for The Girl in the Basement (Morris Publishing Australia), I read about the experiences of young, abducted women who managed to flee their abusers. In particular, Sabine Dardenne’s whose book, I Choose to Live, about her 80 days in captivity, gave me a real insight into the experience and mindset of being kidnapped. Interestingly, the same week that the women were released from years of captivity in the house in Cleveland Ohio was the same week that The Girl in the Basement was released by Morris Publishing Australia.

What is the appeal of writing for young adults?

Many books for young adults published more recently have been fantasy and/or sci-fi, and are about dark themes such as vampires, dystopian societies and so on. As a reader I am more interested in the world as it is now so I don’t bother with these genres. I think there are many young adults who want to read about how fictional characters negotiate the kinds of problems they are faced with in their lives. Reading social-realism is not just living vicariously, it’s also about seeing solutions and seeing that there can be hope when life seems grim and nobody is listening. My other YA novels are The Last Refuge (Hodder Headline) about domestic violence victims and Crossing the Line (Ford Street Publishing) about a girl who is in care and who becomes obsessed with her psychiatrist. I suffer from bipolar so have experience of being in psych wards (nowadays I’m sane because I’m medicated).

How do you avoid covering old ground when you have written so many books?

Crossing the lineI rarely cover old ground! I have been writing and getting published for over 30 years and I’ve never run out of ideas. I don’t just write novels for younger children and teenagers: I also write non-fiction (including a few textbooks), joke books, poetry and verse anthologies, plays, articles, short stories, even an (unpublished) adult novel. My husband (YA award-winning author Bill Condon) and I make a living from full-time writing and have done so for years. Both of us write a 40-hour week each. Over the course of a year I submit upwards of 100 manuscripts to publishers (with a success rate of 15 to 20%).

What are you working on right now?

Lately I have been writing novels for young readers aged 8 to 10 years. The latest is A Game of Keeps (Celapene Press) about a foster child and I’ve just sold two other junior books, one to a small publisher, another to a major publisher. Currently I have a few projects. I’ve just had a junior novel To the Moon and Back assessed by a professional freelancer who has suggested many ways to improve the text, so that’s my writing project.

I am also in the process of proof-reading A Beginner’s Guide to Better English (Five Senses Education) to be published later this year. This week I have resumed editorship of Buzz Words (All the Buzz About Children’s Books)  which I founded in 2006; it’s a fortnightly online magazine for people in the children’s book industry. At the moment I am doing a lot of admin work with the generous help of Vicki Stanton who has done a sterling job at the editing helm for a few years while I took a break. There are hundreds of subscribers, so I am wrangling my computer skills to try to implement everything. I am also finding new content for the first issue I put out on 15 October. If anyone wants a free sample, they can contact me at Buzz Words. 

Thanks to Dianne Bates for giving us an insight into her work.

Visit again soon for more interviews, book news and reviews. Happy reading until then.

Julie Fison

 

 

The Call of the Wild

Some things demand to be written about. For me, it’s orangutans. I first encountered them twenty years ago. I was holidaying on the island of Borneo and came across a sanctuary where young orphaned orangutans were being returned to the wild. The Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre is now a well-organised stop on the tourist trail, but at the time, visitors could wander unrestricted into the jungle as rangers took food for the young orphans. When the orangutans heard the sound of a ranger they would appear out of nowhere and descend to the ground to grab a piece of fruit from the ranger’s bucket.

The Call of the Wild It was an incredible experience, made all the more special because we were able to get so close to the orangutans. One cheeky chappie stole a friend’s scarf from her neck, played with it for a bit and then tossed it aside. A little while later, he came down from his treetop vantage point, unzipped a girl’s money belt, started pulling out notes and eating them. Every time she pulled his hand from her money belt, he used a foot to help himself to more cash.

As we were leaving the sanctuary the same orangutan was sitting on the boardwalk, like he was planning to wave us farewell. But that’s not what he had in mind. As I walked past, he grabbed my hand. I tried to pull it free, but he was way stronger than me. I was stuck. With no sign of the ranger, I had to bribe the orangutan to let me go, handing over a silver pen to secure my free passage.

The orangutans really got to me and I’ve been trying to find a way to include them in a story ever since. Now I have!

The Call of the Wild is my newest Choose Your Own Ever After story for tweens. In this pick-a-path story, nature-loving Phoebe has to choose between going to a super-cool party with her friends or helping out at a save-the-orangutan fundraiser.

The story is light and fun, but the facts behind it are serious. Orangutans are rapidly losing their habitats in Asia due to widespread palm oil cultivation, logging and fires. At the current rate orangutans will be extinct in the wild in the next ten years in Sumatra, and soon after in Borneo. What a tragedy – one that some hard-working charities are fighting to avert. Will they win or will they lose?

I wish I could make a choice on that one.

Feel free to visit my website or you can follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Happy reading,

Julie Fison

 

All the Birds, Singing

Evie’s Wyld’s brooding novel, All the Birds, Singing is hard to let go of. A damp menace clings to the story from the very first line and draws the reader in as the main character Jake Whyte attempts to discover who or what is mutilating her sheep. At the same time we are sucked backwards to the Australian outback, to uncover Jake’s past and understand why she is living on an isolated British island – her only companion: a dog named Dog.

All the birds singingWyld’s book recently won the Miles Franklin award, beating Tim Winton’s Eyrie, Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, and others, with its evocative prose. “Spare, but pitch perfect,” was how the judging panel described Wyld’s writing – “visceral and powerfully measured in tone.” But it’s the structure of All the Birds, Singing that also has me intrigued.

Wyld uses alternating chapters to move the story forwards on the windswept farm and backwards through the outback. The tense of the writing also alternates, with Wyld using the present tense for the flashbacks and the past tense for the rest of the story. The book leaves great gaps in the narrative, but compels the reader to find the source of Jake’s damaged emotional and physical state as well as the identity of the sheep killer.

Wyld apparently had intended to keep the narrative simple when she started this story, but found barriers were thrown up by her choice of writing in first person. She had to find a way to solve them. After writing 50,000 words she decided that reversing the chronology of Jake’s past was a better was of telling the story.

“I was quite reluctant to do it,” she says in an interview with the BBC. “It ended up being a maths problem. I had to make endless charts and work out where I was. I did confuse myself a lot, writing it.”

Wyld builds tension with the flashbacks that take us deeper into Jake’s past, and ultimately to the decision that changed everything. We are fed uncensored snapshots of an ugly side of Australia – in outback towns, on a fly-blown sheep property and above a greasy take-away shop, meeting a cast of troubled characters along the way. These scenes are contrasted with the boggy sheep farm where Jake has gone to escape her past. But even here she’s haunted by some kind of beast.

A maths problem has never been so darkly engaging.

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Hong Kong for beginners

From the outside Hong Kong is a shimmering enclave of mirrored high-rise towers, a former British outpost and a gateway to China – the ultimate fusion of East and West. But beyond the swanky shopping malls and five-star hotels, the city is a heady mix of contradictions – of urban cacophony and tranquil country parks, of staggering wealth and grinding poverty, a city that worships money but still respects tradition, an exotic place that has been inspiring writers for decades.

Countefeit Love by Julie FisonAmong the many books to put Hong Kong at centre stage are James Clavell’s Asian sagas: Tai-Pan and Noble House and John le Carré’s thriller The Honourable Schoolboy. Travel writer Jan Morris explored the city’s complex past and future in Hong Kong, a manual for Hong Kong newbies. Other celebrated novels set in the city include Han Suyin’s post-war love story – A Many-Splendoured Thing, John Lancaster’s epic, Fragrant Harbour, and Janice Y K Lee’s sumptuous historical novel, The Piano Teacher.

My new title for young adults is one of the latest novels to use Hong Kong’s vibrant skyline as its backdrop. Counterfeit Love is a thoroughly contemporary tale of a young television reporter who is trying to make a name for herself in Hong Kong. Lucy Yang’s skills and character are tested as she tries to get to the bottom of a big story. And when the gorgeous, but mysterious, Byron Lloyd starts turning up in unexpected places, she wonders if her perfect man is a sinister part of the story she’s chasing.

Counterfeit Love is a cocktail of ambition, intrigue and romance, and was inspired by my years as a news reporter with a Hong Kong television station. The story is definitely not autobiographical, but in writing it, I drew on my knowledge of Hong Kong, my experience in a newsroom and my memories of starting out in a city that was totally alien to me.

Noble HouseI spent five crazy years in Hong Kong and still vividly recall so much about it – the chaotic newsroom, the crowded MTR, the smell of frying garlic and the pong of fermented bean curd, the white-knuckle ride into the old Kai Tak airport, junk trips to the outlying islands and the sampan ride home at the end of a long night in the office. In my neighbourhood, old Hakka ladies shelled prawns in the sun, while young professionals belted out love songs on their karaoke machines. I had a colleague who often rode home from a night club on the roof of a taxi, just because he could, and a British friend who circled the Hongkong Bank anti clockwise twice every morning before going to work – on the advice of a feng shui master. He still endured his share of bad luck, but was never game to change the habit in case his fortune worsened.

Hong Kong was many things to me, but it was never boring!

Thanks for joining me for my first Boomerang Books Blog post. I will be returning regularly with more bookish news. In the meantime you can visit my website here or you can follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

 

Happy reading,

Julie.

Doodles and Drafts – How to Get to Rio with Julie Fison

The choices kids are offered in life are often not worth writing about, at least not in their books. ‘Eat your brussel sprouts or go to bed hungry.’ Hardly welcome decision making. Yet understanding action and consequence is vital for building character, strengthening confidence and learning that ‘choice, not chance, determines ones future. Opportunities might come our way by chance, but it’s what we choose to do with them that is important,’ so believes author, Julie Fison.Julie Fison

This sentiment is the crux of a new series of choose-your-own-adventure books providing tween-aged girls with the heady liberation of ‘choice’. I remember books like these from my youth; the thrill of remaining within the book for up to eight stories and the omnipotent joy of choosing my own endings. Happily, they are making a powerful resurgence. This contemporary series is aimed selectively for girls aged 10 – 14 who are farewelling simple chapter books in favour of more complicated life themes about boys, crushes, and friendships.

Today we welcome versatile writer, Julie Fison to the draft table to uncover more about her and her newest release from the Choose Your Own Ever After series, How to Get to Rio.

How to get to Rio from coverKitty MacLean is crushing hopelessly on possibly the cutest boy in the world, Rio Sanchez. She is torn between camping with her besties or pursuing a friendship with popular-girl Persephone at a swanky beachside resort. What she decides to do and whether she ever manages to link up with Rio is all up to the reader!

This story bore all the buzz of a pick-your-own-path book that I expected (and previously enjoyed), but with more modern girlie-smartphone threads woven through it. I especially appreciated the descriptive arrows at the bottom of each page reminding readers which path they are currently following. Without these, I’m not sure where I would have ended up with Kitty! Let’s see how Julie managed it.

Q. Who is Julie Fison? Describe your writerly-self.

I am the author of nine books for children and young adults. These include the Hazard River series – fast-paced adventure stories with an environmental twist, two titles in the Smitten series for teens, and How To Get To Rio – part of the new Choose Your Own Ever After series. I also write travel and parenting stories and offer copious amounts of unsolicited advice to my two teenage sons.

Q. What is the most appealing aspect about writing for children for you?

Blood Money coverI started writing fiction for my own children. We were on holidays on the Noosa River and they teamed up with friends and spent their time exploring sandbanks, dodging stingrays, building bush camps and avoiding snakes. I turned their adventures into the Hazard River series. My sons loved the stories – probably because they were in them! It was very rewarding to have the boys involved in the writing process. They didn’t just inspire me; they also helped with the editing and gave me encouragement along the way. I still borrow snippets of their lives for my stories and value their editorial input.

Q. You’ve covered a variety of genres in kids’ writing. Which one (if any) did you least enjoy writing? Why?

!cid_14F12706-950E-49D5-938C-C08D95DED070I really enjoy the variety of writing for different age groups. A 10,000-word adventure story for 10 year olds, like Shark Frenzy (Hazard River series), and a 50,000-word young adult romance like Tall, Dark and Distant, are very different projects – in terms of plotting, character development, voice and themes. But there is definitely a common thread in my work. They are all essentially a fun read. The characters face danger, but the stories ultimately all end happily. Holiday adventures feature heavily in my stories, and there is a boat scene in virtually everything I write. I spent a lot of time on boats when I was a girl, so they just seem to be an integral part of a story to me.

Q. Do you have any favourites from the titles you’ve written, if so which ones?

That’s a tough question. I like them all for different reasons. But if I had to choose, I’d say Blood Money from the Hazard River series, the young adult romance, Lust and Found, and How To Get To Rio from the Choose Your Own Ever After series.

Blood Money is about a gang of kids who discover a bag of money in the mangroves at Hazard River and have to decide what to do with the cash – leave it where it is, keep it, or take it to the police. I particularly like this one because it’s a fun adventure and a great moral dilemma for the characters. It was inspired by a story I spotted in the newspaper. Two boys found a bag of money while fishing in a quiet creek in northern NSW. They handed the money to the police and when no one claimed it, they got to keep it! When I talk to students about this story the room always goes crazy with excitement. It’s a story that really engages kids.

Lust and Found is another one of my favourites. It’s the story of a uni student, who goes on a physical and personal journey as she travels through Cambodia looking for her lost brother. Sienna is a bit of a princess, and can’t stand Cambodia when she first arrives. But she warms to the place as she explores it with her brother’s flatmate, the maddeningly cute Guillaume. I had a lot of fun writing the story. Sienna’s personality meant there was plenty of scope for tantrums, misadventure and transformation.

My other favourite has to be my newest story, How To Get To Rio. I love the whole premise of this pick-a-path series – that every decision has consequences, and that choice not chance determines our future. In this story, Kitty’s first choice is between going camping with her best friends or going to a beach resort with popular-girl Persephone. Kitty is really torn and I would be too!

Q. Choose Your Own Ever After books have a Ctrl Z / Reset quality about them. Do you think this adds to their likeability or befuddles readers? How does the format enhance the story and characters?

I think kids will love having the chance to make choices throughout the story. It definitely adds to the books’ appeal. I often read a story and think – I’m not sure I would have done that. In the Choose Your Own Ever After series, the reader gets to decide every time there’s an important decision to be made.

Q. Did you find writing Rio, more difficult than writing a straightforward, beginning to ending story?

How To Get To Rio definitely had its challenges. I am not a great planner, but I spent a lot of time working on the pathways and endings with my editor, before I got started on this story. I was concerned that I wasn’t going to be able to come up with enough different threads to offer the reader genuine choices. But once I got writing, the characters took over (as they always do). Pathways evolved, choices emerged and the story came together.

Q. Discuss your approach and process used when writing a-choose-your-own-path adventure.

The key to writing a choose-your-own-path story is getting the set-up chapters right. The threads for all of the pathways start from here. That means the characters have to be established very early – their motivations and the potential for conflict have to be revealed right from the beginning. It’s what I would try to do in any story, but the challenge in How To Get To Rio was to get the threads of seven different stories into the opening chapter! From there I wrote the pathways as I would read them – taking one thread all the way to the end and then going back to the last choice and writing another ending. As there are a series of choices to be made throughout the book, I kept going back to the previous choice and following that to its conclusion. (It was actually easier to write than to explain!) There was a big advantage to writing this style of book. When I got stuck on one storyline, I just moved on to another one.

Q. What’s on the draft table for Julie?

I am working on another book in the Choose Your Own Ever After series that comes out in July. In The Call of The Wild, the main character, nature-loving Phoebe has to choose between going to a party with her best friends or helping at a save-the-orang-utan fundraiser. I am very concerned about the plight of orang-utans in the wild, so that story is close to my heart.

Counterfeit LoveThe other story on my desk is a young adult novel – Counterfeit Love. Lucy Yang is an ambitious television reporter, who gets more than she bargains for as she hunts down a big story in Hong Kong. That book comes out in July, too.

I have a head full of ideas for other stories all fighting for attention, including a travel memoir. But that’s something for the future when I have more time to travel!

Just for fun Q. If you could Ctrl Z one thing in your writing career thus far, what would it be?

I wish I had started writing fiction earlier. I had no idea how much I would enjoy it. On the other hand, I don’t produce my best work when I try to force a story. So, I am glad I had that holiday on the Noosa River when I did, otherwise I might still be wondering if I should write a book!

Thank you for having me, Dimity. I look forward to visiting again soon.

Always a pleasure Julie! Stick around and help us trek down more interesting facts on Rio.

Hardie Grant Egmont Books April 2014

Follow Julie’s Blog Tour on How to Get to Rio, here.

Book tour details:

1 April: Sherryl Caulfield http://www.sherrylcaulfield.com/

9 April: Kids’ Book Review http://www.kids-bookreview.com/

15 April: DeeScribewriting http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com/

23 April: Cereal Readers http://www.cerealreaders.blogspot.com.au/

28 April: Boomerang Blog with Dimity Powell

Bug in a Book http://buginabook.org/

Buzz Words http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com/

The Book Chook http://www.thebookchook.com/