The Hush Treasure Book and Australian Kids through the Years

HushThere used to be much anticipation and excitement about children’s annual book ‘treasuries’ and other compilations. Now we have The Hush Treasure Book (Allen & Unwin) to dip into. This book is special for two reasons. Firstly, it takes the Australian charity ‘Hush’ into the world of books. The specially composed Hush CDs have been bringing music to children in hospitals since 2000. There are now fourteen ‘albums of original music to bring peace and hope to patients and their families’. A CD also accompanies this book.

Secondly, The Hush Treasure Book is a ‘treasure’ of Australian authors and illustrators of children’s books, including the successful partnerships of Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King, and Mark Greenwood and Frane Lessac. Talented Karen Taylor has imaginatively edited the book with lovely attention to detail and Lee and Kevin Burgemeestre have designed the cover and title page. The book can be read through from beginning to end; or poems, short stories and other works could be chosen to suit the reader, an occasion or mood.

Short stories include ‘Doctor Maddie’ by Danny Katz, illustrated by Mitch Vane about sick Honey Bear, and ‘The Best Horse of All’ about a carousel, written by Margaret Wild and sumptuously illustrated by Julie Vivas.

My favourite story is the longest one, ‘Ghost Motel’ about a seemingly creepy motel, by Jackie French and Michael Camilleri.

Poems include ‘We can see the world from here’ written by Jane Godwin and illustrated by Anna Walker, which is apt for a child in bed; ‘Nothing to be scared of’ by Doug Macleod, illustrated from soaring bird’s-eye views by Craig Smith; ‘Oliver’s Town’ by Nick Bland; ‘Ward’ by Shaun Tan (complete with an illustration of an owl); and an exuberant, rhyming poem by Karen Tayleur and Ann James, ‘Dot the Tot’.

There is an amazing, beautifully constructed maze by Judith Rossell, which kept me fascinated till I completed it. What a clever addition to a book for children in bed.

There are also pieces by luminaries of Australian children’s literature Tohby Riddle, Alison Lester, Bob Graham and Jane Tanner; talented newcomers; and a wordless double page spread by Bruce Whatley, which seems to be paying homage to the style of Gregory Rogers.

KidsAnother wonderful book to browse through is Australian Kids through the Years, written by Tania McCartney with pictures by the inimitable Andrew Joyner, published by the National Library of Australia. This is a non-fiction text in picture book form. It looks at children from the first Australian Aboriginal children, the 1800-1840s, the 1850s on the goldfields, 1900-1909, the 1950s and each successive decade until the present. Many of the children come from different ethnic backgrounds.

Each era is described over two double page spreads, with an introduction to the children featured and then a double page of detailed illustration showing what the children, and those around them, are doing. The written text is minimal, often in speech bubbles and short lists; such as what children were reading in the early 1900s – Seven Little Australians, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Wind in the Willows, and playing in the 1990s – Rugby League, Power Rangers, Little Athletics, Tamagotchi and Super Soaker. It’s great to see 90s children reading Magic Beach by Alison Lester, not least because she features in Hush as well. Jackie French also appears in both books, here with Diary of a Wombat.Magic Beach

Children should be fascinated by changing Australia. No doubt extensive information has been carefully honed to make Australian Kids through the Years accessible and interesting. It is also very well designed.

YA Reading Matters

NonaI’m just back from Melbourne for the second time in a month. Despite busy May in the book world, this was my long-awaited chance to attend ‘Reading Matters’ conference, which is organised by the Centre for Youth Literature (CYL) and focuses on YA literature and storytelling. Presenters aimed their content at librarians and teacher librarians; and aspiring or other authors would also have benefited from the program. The overall theme of diversity is hot on the heels of a US movement.

Before the conference began, delegates were invited to the Text Publishing party where the winner of the 2015 Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing was awarded to Kimberley Starr, author of The Book of Whispers. Her book sounds like an original historical fantasy set during the Crusades in a world of demons. I wonder if it will be a cross between Catherine Jinks’s Pagan stories and Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy?

This is ShynessThe Text party was one of the weekend’s highlights, particularly because I met one of the Text Prize’s former winners, Leanne Hall. Her first YA novel, This is Shyness, is one of my all-time top three YA books. I can’t wait for her novel for younger readers, to be published in 2016.

The Reading Matters conference started with a panel of three teen readers, overtly selected for their physical diversity. Male rep, Chris, began by praising The Sky So Heavy, which was fantastic because author Claire Zorn had been incognito in the audience until then. He also clarified that ‘YA lit’ is a category, not a genre. There are genres such as speculative fiction and historical fiction within YA. The three panellists agreed that upcoming books should cut the romance – they’re over love triangles and insta-love/lust (instant attraction) and forget the suicide books. They simply don’t want to read them.

Authors on other panels didn’t necessarily agree about the teens’ views on romance although Will Kostakis was instructed by his editor of The First Third to write a big kiss scene. Will told us that he writes ‘awkwardness’ and ‘embarrassing’ well so that is where he took his scene. Will also wants his readers to experience the emotional side, rather than just the mechanics, of relationships.First Third

Along with other panellists, Will made some good points in a panel called ‘Hashtag Teen: Engaging teens and YA advocacy’. He turned a reluctant writing class around by running a whole lesson on Twitter. He also recommended  PTA (Penguin Teen Australia) where there’s a weekly chat. Authors such as Amie Kaufman (The Starbound trilogy) even drop in.

These Broken Stars

Hip-hop, today’s spoken poetry, raised its head unexpectedly and powerfully twice. Year 12 student, Jayden Pinn from Creative Rebellion Youth performed two lyrical, metaphorical, hard-hitting pieces. And founder of CRY, formerly illiterate Sudanese refugee and now awarded performance poet, Abe Nouk encouraged us to feel, not always think; say a prayer; deliver a service – smile; use a comma, not a full stop (don’t end, keep going); be kind and gracious; invest in people; and do not be afraid to reveal your insecurities to your pen. Abe credited hip-hop with changing his life.

Tom Taylor, Australian creator of the current Iron Man and other international comics urged us to recognise comics. His comic for young readers, The Deep, deserves a wide readership.

Clare Atkins made some important points in her sessions, particularly about consulting with someone from a different background or group you are writing about. She did this with an Aboriginal friend in Nona and Me . (See my review here.) Authors shouldn’t avoid writing about other ethnic groups if they consult respectfully.

On a Small Island‘Literary Landscapes’ was another of my favourite sessions because it took an interesting perspective by exploring the landscape behind books by Clare Atkins (Arnhem Land), Sean Williams and Kyle Hughes-Odgers.

Jaclyn Moriarty and Sean Williams’s debate on ‘Science Vs Magic’ was fresh, articulate and intelligent. Jaclyn challenged Sean with two wands but he retaliated with a laser. Jaclyn Moriarty is a lyrical speaker and delegates later mentioned that they ‘could listen to her all day’ – exactly what I was thinking. She and Sean had a feisty, ultimately gracious, battle.

Keynote international authors, Laurie Halse Anderson (The Impossible Knife of Memory) and Sally Gardner (I, Coriander; The Door That Led to Where) both had horrible childhoods. Laurie told us that she writes ‘Resilience Literature’ and explained that good stories teach you about the world; about falling down and how to get up.I Coriander

One of the most exciting parts of the conference was discovering authors hidden in the audience such as Melissa Keil (The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl), Claire Zorn (The Protected), Margo Lanagan (Red Spikes) and Karen Tayleur (Six).

“6” WILL SCORE WELL WITH YA READERS

It has been a while since I read a book that left me not wanting it to end. You know the kind of book where wake up in the morning looking forward to reading more but then you remember that you finished it the day before.

That’s what happened when I read Karen Tayleur’s new YA novel, “6”. It’s one of those books you read as a reader and you think I wish there was a sequel. It’s one of those books you read as a writer and think, “I wish I’d written that.”

There are a lot of characters to juggle in this book (6 if you don’t count parents and other minors) and there are six points of view. But Tayleur handles each one with precision – each voice never wanes – each character is clearly delineated.

The ‘6’ are six year twelve students whose lives are intertwined in a complex way – six kids looking forward to a bright future, confident that things will go their way. You know from just reading the blurb that this confidence is misplaced, that six kids in a car with five seat belts is a recipe for something going badly wrong.

But the collision itself doesn’t seem relevant after a while. You become so embroiled in the character’s lives that all you can think as you hurtle towards the end is that you really hope your favourite character comes out of this okay. It’s the authentic characters that really hook you in to “6” that make you care about them and want to know what happens next, even though a part of you is scared to find out.

There’s an underlying story that starts the whole chain of events, and adds a bit of mystery, and it’s a great device to help build the tension and make the reader start to doubt some of the characters and second guess what might happen next.

“6” has just the right balance of anticipation and suspense to keep the reader hooked. You know it isn’t going to end well for someone, but you’re not sure who and you’re not really sure who you want to be saved.

YA readers who love gritty storylines, authentic characters and polished prose will devour this novel and emerge from the experience moved, shocked and wanting more.

“6” is a beautifully crafted novel that is destined to have a profound impact on the YA literary scene.

More about Karen Tayleur and her work is available at www.karentayleur.com/

Blogging about blogging

In recent years, blogging has become the in thing. It seems that every man and has dog is getting in on it. People blog on a HUGE range of topics, from the intensely personal (often fitting into the “too much information” category, thus only able to be read whilst chanting “la-la-la-la” really loudly) through to public commentary. Seeing as Literary Clutter is a blog about books and writing, I thought I’d focus on author blogs.

There are lots of authors out there who blog regularly. Reading their blogs can be a great way to introduce yourself to their writing. Chances are, if you like their blog, you might like their books.

Authors blog for a variety of reasons. It can be a way of promoting themselves and their books. It can be a way of keeping themselves writing regularly, even when they are not working on a new book. It can be an outlet for opinions and a testing ground for ideas. And it can be a great way for them to interact with their readers. I asked a couple of author-bloggers to briefly tell us about their blogging.

First up we have Karen Tayleur, whose latest book is the YA novel Six. You can read her blog here.

Blogging is a way to hook into the writing universe in a way that you can’t do on Facebook. Unless your readers click a followers icon, you’re never sure who, if anyone, is listening. The best part of blogging is the interaction with your readers. I’m always surprised when someone in real life mentions reading the blog. I wish they’d leave a message online. I like to talk about writing and stories, although home life sometimes creeps in. It’s all grist for the mill. I like reading other writers blogs. It’s interesting to see what makes them tick.

Next up we have Sue Bursztynski. Her most recent non-fiction book is Crime Time, and her new YA fantasy novel, Wolfborn, is to be released by Woolshed Press in December. You can read her blog here.

My blog,The Great Raven, mostly reviews children’s and YA books. I started it because January Magazine, for which I review, is overflowing with material and doesn’t publish more than one review at a time per author, so can take a while to publish your stuff.

I don’t post as often as many other bloggers; I’d rather throw my energies into writing books than posts. But blogs are easier to update than other forms of web site if you’re not an expert, and they’re a great way to publicise.

My “followers” include two of my former editors, some friends, a bookseller and fellow writers. Some of them aren’t on my visible followers list, so it’s a wonderful surprise when they pop up with a comment now and then. When I announced proudly that I’d sold my first novel, to Random House/Woolshed, I got some very enthusiastic congratulations.

I like the immediacy of blogging – and it’s becoming, more and more, a mainstream form of writing and publishing.

Thanks you, Karen and Sue, for visiting Literary Clutter.

There are lots of author blogs out there that are worth reading. If you’ve got a favourite author, why not Google then and see if they write a blog? I read quite a lot of author blogs, some more regularly than others. Here’s a small selection of those:

If you know of any other good author blogs, leave a comment.

And tune in next time for some of my favourite book covers.

Cheers,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter.

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Some kids’ anthologies

The Melbourne Cup has been run but the horse I backed is still running. Oh well. I’ve got to say that even though I’ve grown up with it, there is something quite surreal about living in a state that gives its residents a public holiday for a horse race. But on to more important things… short story anthologies.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that I like short stories and that I love reading short story anthologies. (See my previous posts on this topic here and here). I recently read three children’s anthologies that I thought were worth blogging about. The three anthologies I’m writing about today all have something in common — the fact that I submitted stories to them… although only two of them ended up using my stories. You win some, you lose some — and as an author I’ve developed a thick skin over the years. 🙂

Let’s start with my favourite — Under the Weather: Stories About Climate Change, edited by Tony Bradman. Originally published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books in the UK in 2009, it was released in Australia by Walker Books in early 2010. Bradman is an experienced anthologist with many books to his name, and he has done very well in gathering together a cohesive set of stories for this one. The eight stories are set in different parts of the world and take different approaches to the theme of climate change. But they are all linked by a sense of optimism and hope… that no matter how bad things get, there is always something that people can do, if only they would try.

Next up we have Worlds Next Door, edited by Tehani Wessely and published here in Australia by the small press FableCroft Publishing. This anthology contains 25 speculative fiction stories aimed at children. This is the anthology to which my submission was rejected. But I’m okay with that, as they have a terrific line up of stories. Although some are better than others, there are no clunkers in there. I’ve already reviewed this book on the Australian Spec Fic in Focus website and fellow Boomerang Books blogger Dee White has also written about this book on Kids’ Book Capers. So, I’ll move on to the next anthology…

Short and Scary, edited by Karen Tayleur and published by Black Dog Books. This is an odd little anthology. Although I did enjoy it, I didn’t love it… and I did so want to love it. There are some really great little stories in this, including Sheryl Gwyther’s “Corn Dolly Dead”, Sally Rippin’s “Bonnikins” and Shirley Marr’s “Destiny Meets Girl”. But I found that too many of the stories just didn’t do it for me. I realise the book is called Short and Scary, but some of the stories were just too short — feeling under-developed and leaving me thinking, “damn, this could have been really good if it were only a little bit longer”. But it is a valiant effort and there is still much to enjoy within these pages, including some good poetry and some creepy illustrations.

Even though Under the Weather is my favourite of the anthologies, my absolute favourite story from all three is “The Best Dog in the World” by Dirk Flinthart in Worlds Next Door. It’s science fiction, but with an emotional core — a story to make kids ponder if the end can justify the means; a story that almost had me in tears.

So there you have it, my thoughts on three recent anthologies. Has anyone else out there read these books? Leave a comment and let us know if you agree with my assessment, or if you think I’m way off base.

And tune in next time for a post about autographed books.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… my tweets are shorter than your average short story.

Short stories

I love short stories! I love reading them and I love writing them. So I’m going to take a couple of posts to blather on about them.

I adore the way a short story can force a writer to cut through the waffle and get straight to the core of the plot. With a novel you have umpteen thousand words to create your world, set the scene, introduce your characters and slowly unravel your plot. But not so with the short story, because… well… it’s short.  🙂

I’ve read a lot of short stories over the years and there are a few writers who really stand out for me as masters of the form. Neil Gaiman, for instance. Yes, I know, he’s best known for his novels and comics, but it is as a short story writer that I believe he truly excels. “Murder Mysteries”, a story about the angel Raguel, who was “the Vengeance of the Lord”, is one that comes to mind. But my absolute favourite is “Nicholas Was…” — a Christmas story with a difference, that is exactly 100 words long.

“Nicholas Was…
older than sin, and his beard could grow no whiter. He wanted to die.”

If you’re able to locate a copy, I’d highly recommend checking out Gaiman’s collection, Smoke and Mirrors.

The late, great Sir Peter Ustinov is probably best remembered as an actor, but he was also a masterful writer of short stories. Loaded with wit, compassion, interesting characters and an incredible depth of knowledge, his stories are a joy to read. “Add a Dash of Pity” (the title story from his collection Add a Dash of Pity) is my favourite of his stories, and here’s my favourite sentence from it:

“He looked at her as though seeing her for the first time, and kissed her as if they were not yet married.”

Short and ScaryAs a writer, one of the things that I love about short stories is that I’m able to dip in to many subjects and many genres. Just look at my three most recently published short stories.

“Trees”, published in Short and Scary, edited by Karen Tayleur, is a YA horror about two teens in a forest of vengeful trees.

“Feather-light”, published in Belong, edited by Russell B Farr, is a fantasy about a straight guy who falls for a gay angel who has been exiled from exile.

“Future Dreaming”, published in Under the Weather: Stories about climate change, edited by Tony Bradman, is a kids’ story about climate change and how the actions of individuals can influence the future.

A number of years ago, my wife and I went on a holiday to Egypt. While there, we climbed Mt Sinai and visited St Katherine’s monastery, situated at the foot of the mountain. This visit inspired me to write a science fiction story, called “The Last Monk”, which was published in 2002 in issue 30 of Aurealis – Australian Fantasy & Science Fiction. I’m very happy to say that this magazine, now at issue 42, is still going strong. I invited Stuart Mayne, the current editor, to tell us a little about the mag.

Aurealis is Australia’s most successful science fiction and fantasy (SF) magazine. When the first issue appeared in September 1990 something began that had never been produced before in Australia: a professional mass market SF magazine. Before Aurealis there were hundreds of thousands of avid SF readers in Australia, but the amount of Australian SF they were reading was miniscule. Aurealis has changed that, and launched dozens of new writers, who have become established writers. Now, most of the major publishers in Australia have a local SF list. In addition, the Aurealis Awards for Excellence in Australian Speculative Fiction were established in 1995 and have become the premier SF awards, highly prized by producers and publishers alike.

Aurealis began when Stephen Higgins and Dirk Strasser met in a short story writing class. Stephen and Dirk shared an interest in science fiction and fantasy in the face of a teacher and fellow students who, at best, viewed them with a total lack of comprehension. Then, one evening, sitting, around one said, ‘I’ve always wanted to start a science fiction and fantasy magazine’ to which the other replied, ‘Me too.’ That was the moment when Aurealis was born. This year Aurealis celebrates a record breaking twenty years of continuous publication: a remarkable contribution to the Australian literary landscape.

Aurealis focuses on publishing Australian SF. It provides Australian SF writers with a steady, reliable market and continues to play a defining and pivotal role in the promotion and acceptance of Australian science fiction, fantasy and horror. We have kicked off the careers of many bestselling speculative fiction authors, including Michael Pryor, Shaun Tan and our beloved former Art Director, Trudi Canavan.

Thanks for stopping by, Stuart. To find out more about Aurealis, and to see their submission guidelines, check out their website.

And tune in next time for some more short stories.

Catch ya later,  George

EXCLUSIVE: Karen Tayleur Guest Blog

Karen Tayleur, author of Chasing Boys and the newly-released Hostage, talks about an author’s relationship with her characters.

Spend enough time with characters from a book and they become real to you. They don’t belong to the author anymore, but are entities in their own right. As a young reader I counted Katy (What Katy Did), Jo and all her sisters (Little Women) among my group of friends. As an author, I find the same thing. Originally, the characters are my creation, my pawns to do with what I choose. Soon enough, though, they flesh out and become real people, which can interfere with my plans. ‘Oh, no, Tully would definitely not ask the parking inspector for help, she has a lifelong aversion to authority figures.’ Sometimes we don’t see eye to eye.

Tully, the main protagonist from my latest book, Hostage, was a slippery character to pin down. However, in an echo of real life, if you take the time to get to know a person, the more empathy you can have for them — even if you never really like them. I grew to like Tully, though. I thought I knew her — well as the author, I had the best chance of knowing her — but as the months progressed, I finally really knew her, understood her motives, and the story became easier to write.

Not that Hostage was easy to write. It took two corkboards of coloured cards to plot out what was happening, when and where. And it was satisfying to finish. There are several high points in the writing process that I enjoy. One is finally understanding my main character in depth. Another is waking up after grappling with a knotty point in the plot and having the solution. The greatest high point is pushing that send button and watching the first draft whiz off to my editor, with the full knowledge that there will be redrafting but that this is actually a miracle that the first draft is finished. It’s not until later, a month or so after the book has gone to press, that I find myself thinking about my main protagonist again. Wondering what he or she would be doing beyond that final page.

I’ve had requests from some readers for a sequel to Chasing Boys. It was never my intention for it to be a series, but I understand their need to continue the relationship with the characters. In a compromise, I gave one of the characters a cameo role in Hostage.

I sometimes catch myself thinking about Tully. Wondering about her life. What she will make of it. As with the friends we make in real life, some come and go, while others remain forever. I may never meet up with Tully again, but we will always have a connection.

I wish her all the best.