Holidays – the chance to read: short fiction, poetry, YA …

Only the AnimalsThe Christmas holidays are most likely your best chance in the year to read. If your family or close friends aren’t as keen as you, send them off on other pursuits – the Sydney Festival if you’re in NSW (or even if not); bush walks, tennis or whitewater rafting; the beach; the movies, especially moonlit ones … Or better still, join them doing those fun things but make sure they also have a book to read when you just can’t keep yourself out of one for a minute longer.

I am about to read some more short fiction – there are so many great collections around at the moment – starting with Springtime by Michelle de Kretser and then The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel and The Strange Library by Huraki Murakami. I was fortunate to go to a launch of Only the Animals by South-African born, Australian author, Ceridwen Dovey (Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Books) earlier in the year and so have already read this original work which is exceptional across short and long fiction. The conceit of telling each short story from the viewpoint of animal souls and their engagement with important times in history as well as with significant writers, such as Franz Kafka, J.M Coetzee, Virginia Woolf and Julian Barnes, is inspired. And the writing is brilliant. Ceridwen is a star and her book cover is the best of the year.A Rightful Place

In non-fiction, Noel Pearson’s Quarterly Essay, A Rightful Place (Black Inc) is my standout. In fact, it’s essential reading to glean some understanding of our original peoples, written by one of their representatives who understands the problems as well as possible ways forward. Pearson is also revered by a broad cross-section of Australians, particularly after his speech at Gough Whitlam’s funeral. Although divisive, many would regard him as a statesman.

Australian poetry is flourishing. I can only begin to list the 2014 crop but a few include Earth Hour by David Malouf (UQP), Sack by John Kinsella (Fremantle Press) and Poems 1957-2013 by Geoffrey Lehmann (UWAP) – reviewed here.

Cracks in the KingdomMy favourite young adult novels of the year include The Protected by Claire Zorn (UQP), Laurinda by Alice Pung (Black Inc), The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil (Hardie Grant Egmont) and Nona and Me by Clare Atkins (Black Inc). Jackie French in To Love a Sunburnt Country (HarperCollins) has opened my eyes again to an unknown part of Australia’s history. Incidentally, her novel for middle school (upper primary – junior secondary), Refuge recently co-won the children’s category of the Qld Literary Awards with Shaun Tan’s illustrated Rules of Summer.

And The Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty, which is the second in the ‘Colours of Madeleine’ trilogy and won the YA category of the Qld Literary Awards, is another of my 2014 Australian favourites.

Springtime

What I’m reading this Christmas: Galina Marinov, Leading Edge Books

Three StoriesThanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Galina Marinov.

Thanks for having me.

You’re the buyer and marketing manager at Leading Edge Books and you’re going to share your Christmas picks with us. But first let’s find out about you and your work.

Leading Edge Books has a national profile. What does LEB do? 

Leading Edge Books is a marketing and buying group behind more than 170 independent booksellers from all over Australia. We are part of a wider Leading Edge Group – an organisation providing vital services for small independent retailers – from Books, Music and Video stores, to Electronics, Computers, Appliances, to Jewellery shops. Leading Edge Group also operates in Telecommunication and Technology services.

Members of Leading Edge Books have access to improved trading terms with all the major Australian publishers through group buying and variety of backlist and other promotional offers. In addition, bookstores have access to marketing materials in the form of print and online catalogues, newsletters, POS and merchandise services.

We run a dedicated promotional website under the brand of Australian Independent Booksellers (www.indies.com.au) and its associated social media channels, promoting new publications as well as serving as a gateway to member-bookstores own websites.Galina

In addition to buying and marketing services, Leading Edge Books serves as an entity uniting independent booksellers in Australia and provides opportunities to its membership to exchange ideas, expertise and innovation. We work closely with the Australian Bookseller Association and for the past few years have run conjoined conferences – forums packed full of sessions on topics pertinent to Australian book trade and bookselling – from industry-wide developments and challenges, to small business essentials, and opportunities to hear from authors about their new publications.

All our activities and programs are centered on providing support to the booksellers in our group – from offering marketing support and improved profit margins, to ability to share expertise with likeminded people and businesses. We’d like to think of Leading Edge Books as an organisation that contributes to keeping Australian independent booksellers thriving and prospering in changing market conditions.

SpringtimeWhat is different/special about Leading Edge Books? 

Leading Edge booksellers share a strong commitment to maintaining the highest standard in terms of depth of range, customer service and expert advice on the best books for adults, young adults and children.

Independents are well recognised by the publishing community as the biggest supporters of Australian writing and are instrumental in nurturing and promoting new Australian writing. In recognition of this role, in 2008 we established the Indie Book Awards – awards recognising the best in Australian writing in the category of fiction, non-fiction, children’s & YA and debut fiction, as selected by independent booksellers.

Announced early in the year, the Indie Book Awards are now considered the front runner of Australian literary awards. We are proud to have had as our Book of the Year some of the best Australian books of the past few years – Breath by Tim Winton, Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey, The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do, All That I Am by Anna Funder, The Light Between Oceans by L.M. Stedman and The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan which went on to win this year’s Man Booker Prize.

We are currently in the process of collating the nominations for the 2015 Indie Book Awards and it is heartening to see so many young and debut Australian authors being nominated.

Why  are independent bookshops  so important and what do you see as the way forward in the book industry?A Strange Library

Independent booksellers are renowned for their passion for books. They know their books and their customers and often serve as hubs to their local communities, encouraging love of literature, literacy and education. As such, they are much more than commercial enterprises; they are indispensable to our society cultural institutions.

We are proud to have in our group some of the best independent booksellers in Australia – from Readings in Melbourne, to Boffins in Perth, to Avid Reader and Riverbend Books in Brisbane, to Abbey’s, Gleebooks and Pages & Pages in Sydney.

Far from the “doom and gloom’’ often portrayed in the media when it comes to the current state of the book industry, these booksellers offer brilliant examples of successful businesses which thrive on change and innovation. Maintaining the core independent bookselling ethos of serving and working closely with their local communities, they are also very active on social media, reach wider audience through strong online presence and view new formats such as ebooks as a way of enriching services to their customers rather than as a threat.

You’re the buyer and marketing manager at LEB – what do these roles involve?

We are a very small team of only four staff members working exclusively for the Books group and as such we all work together across the entire range of services we offer to our member stores.

Absolutely Beautiful ThingsMy main responsibilities lie in the areas of group buying – I work closely with representatives from all the major Australian publishers in offering the best titles for independent bookstores at best possible terms – and I also manage the production of marketing materials for the group. I love being able to see what’s being published across all publishers and imprints, and across genres – from fiction, to non-fiction, biographies, illustrated books to children’s and YA. We work 3 to 4 months in advance, so more often than not I read books that will be published in the future. Love of reading and knowledge of authors and publications are essential to this role, in order to being able to offer titles suitable for independent booksellers and to produce marketing materials and promotions of relevance to our bookstores.

How did you get this job?

I’ve been with Leading Edge Books for over six years now. The sum of all my previous experience (and of course love of books) led me to this role.

I was lucky my first job in Australia over twenty years ago was with a library and educational supplier. They were also an agent for a number of overseas publishers. That period of my early career was a crash course on who’s who of Australian publishing and the relationships between publishers, booksellers, libraries and agents.

After finishing a post graduate Diploma in Library and Information Sciences, I could have well gone down the road of Twelve Days of Christmasbecome a reference librarian (my dream at the time) but ended up taking up a position with Doubleday Book Clubs, first as an editorial assistant, then as a product manager within the new member recruitment team and later as a product manager/club director for some of their specialty book clubs. Product selection, buying, creative, marketing, editorial was all part of the job. I met and worked with some incredible people, read widely both fiction and non-fiction, and loved every minute of it. Unfortunately by mid-2000 the book club concept was on the way out and the clubs failed to re-position themselves in the new online selling environment.

I went on to work as a senior product manager for Random House – a role that gave me the opportunity to work within a publishing company. The learning curve was steep but extremely rewarding – I was responsible for the product management of the Random House UK list and for local reprints – and I absolutely loved the idea of working for the publisher of some of my favourite authors, both local (Peter Carey, Matthew Condon and Christopher Koch were all published by Random House at the time) and UK literary giants such as Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, Julian Barnes and Louis de Bernieres, just to mention a few.

Then the offer for this job came and I could not resist the opportunity to see it all from the bookseller side of the industry…

The Rosie EffectI enjoy seeing you at writers’ festivals and know how passionate you are about the books you come across, but could you tell us about some that you particularly love.

Like anyone who works in the book industry I read a lot and I buy a lot of books. My library is full of ‘my favourites’ – way too many to list here, and the moment I finish writing this I know there will be dozens more that will come to mind, but here are a few offerings.

Anything Jane Austen – I’m a huge Jane Austen fan – and especially Pride and Prejudice.

Then in no particular order – from modern classics to more recently published, some of my favourite books are:

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Lovesong by Alex Miller
The Tiger Wife by Thea Obreht
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Educating Alice by Alice SteinbachMuseum of Innocence
Wanting by Richard Flanagan
Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
People’s Act of Love by James Meak
The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
Fingersmith by Sarha Waters
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk
etc, etc

Which authors have you been especially thrilled to meet?

Meeting authors and listening to author talks at writers’ festivals, bookseller and publisher events, is one of the most rewarding aspects of working in the book industry. I’ve met some remarkable writers and again the list would be too long but if I have to choose just a few, I would mention listening for the first time to Alex Miller at the Sydney Writers Festival, Alain de Botton at the Sydney Opera House, Simon Winchester at an event at Pages & Pages, Hilary Mantel in conversation with Michael Cathcart via video link at the SWF, Richard Flanagan’s speech at the Leading Edge conference in Adelaide in 2013. More recently I was absolutely thrilled and star-stuck meeting George R.R. Martin at HarperCollins Publishers and in September this year I went to an event with Salman Rushdie at the Melbourne Writers Festival.

What are some must-reads over Christmas?

There are so many wonderful books being published this Christmas season; there is truly something for everyone.Amnesia

For fiction lovers, there are new books by some of Australia’s most loved writers – Amnesia by Peter Carey is a satirical exploration of the big issues of our time and our recent history. There is the follow up to the bestselling The Rosie ProjectThe Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion, short stories by Christos Tsiolkas, Merciless Gods, and J.M Coetzee’s Three Stories, a jewel-like novella by Michelle de Kretser, Springtime, to mention a few. And for everyone who hasn’t read it yet, there is the remarkable The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan.

International fiction offers a wealth of books to choose from – from Colm Toibin’s Nora Webster and Marilynne Robinson’s Lila, to new offerings by Michel Faber (The Book of Strange New Things), Alexander McCall Smith’s latest in the Mma Ramotswe’s adventures The Handsome Man’s Deluxe Cafe and a re-imagining of Emma, Haruki Murakami’s The Strange Library, and short story collections by Hilary Mantel and Margaret Atwood.

I am also looking forward to reading Mr Mac and Me by Esther Freud, Miss Carter’s War by Sheila Hancock and First Impression by Charlie Lovett, which as the title suggests promises to delight all Austen fans.

As usual non-fiction covers a variety of subjects and genres – from biographies on the lives of politicians (My Story by Julia Gillard and The Menzies Era by John Howard) and artists (Bill: The Life of William Dobell by Scott Bevan and John Olsen by Darleen Bungey), remarkable true life stories (Walking Free by Dr Munjed Al Muderis and A Bone of Fact by the creator of Mona in Hobart, David Walsh) to TV and sports personality books.

Once Upon an AlphabetA stand out for me is What Days are For by Robert Dessaix – a small but profound book on what makes a meaningful life.

There are also beautiful illustrated books on offer – from gorgeously produced cookbooks (my pick is A Food Lover’s Pilgrimage to France by Dee Nolan) to books on art, gardening and interior design – a must-have is Absolutely Beautiful Things by Anna Spiros.

And of course, for children there is plenty of fantastic picture books – my favourites are Once Upon an Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers, In My Heart: A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek, illustrated by Christine Roussey and a gorgeous edition of The Twelve Days of Christmas by Alison Jay. Withering-by-Sea by Judith Rossell is my pick in junior fiction and Laurinda by Alice Pung is my choice for teen readers.

What is your secret reading pleasure?

I love historical fiction – from literary masterpieces such as Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, to the genre-busting A Game of Thrones series by George R.R. Martin (which strictly speaking are fantasy books of course), to historical sagas. I’ve been reading one particular series – The Morland Dynasty books by Cynthia Harold-Eagles since the late 1990’s. It follows the life of an English aristocratic family from the Middle Ages until recent days. I’m looking forward to reading the latest volume #35 over the summer holidays.

I also love reading poetry.

… And did I mention, Jane Austen – there is always a different edition of Pride and Prejudice to re-read.

Thanks very much for speaking with us, Galina.Bill

You are very welcome. Thanks for the opportunity!

 

Meet Alice Pung, author of Laurinda

LaurindaThanks for talking to Boomerang Books about your outstanding first novel Laurinda (Black Inc.), Alice Pung.

Thanks for interviewing me!

You are well known for your excellent non-fiction, Unpolished Gem, Her Father’s Daughter and as editor of Growing Up Asian in Australia. Why have you sidestepped into YA fiction?

Growing up, I went to five different high schools, and I have always been fascinated by the way institutions shape individuals. In each new high school I felt like I was a slightly different person – not because anything about me had immediately changed – but because people’s perceptions of me had.

High school is the only time in your life where a large part of your identity is actually shaped by other people. As an adult you can choose your friends, and your time is finite, so of course, you try to only spend time with people who like and affirm you. As a teenager, though, you are forced to fit yourself in amongst 200-1000 other people, who are all with you every day. So I’ve always been interested in how teenagers adapt to this. And I wanted to do this through fiction because I wanted to create a character inspired by a number of young adults I’d met and admired.

You are also known for the Asian content and stories in your books. How does this manifest in LaurindaUnpolished Gem

Laurinda, first and foremost, takes a satirical look at class. Lucy Lam, my main character, is from depressed socio-economic circumstances, and I did not want her race to be the main focus. Where many young adult books fall flat, I think, is when they focus on the ethnicity or race as the most important part of their character. The reality is, most teenagers don’t spend time thinking about their cultural background. You don’t wake up every morning aware that you’re Asian, until someone draws your attention to it.

And that’s the paradox with a school like Laurinda – where everyone is so liberal and politically correct and culturally sensitive – the most interesting thing other girls focus on about Lucy is her Asian-ness. The other girls do not realise that she is a teenager in the exact same way they are: Lucy does not know the history of colonial Indochina, is not an authority on oriental food, and is more interested in boys than Vietnam war films.

Did you attend a school like Laurinda? If not, how did you imagine and craft this setting with such verisimilitude?

I get asked this a lot! No, I didn’t attend any school that was as rotten as Laurinda (thankfully!), but I have, like most other students, had teachers who were bullies, been in classes where we bullied the teachers, and seen the whole mean girl dynamic five times over in each new high school at which I started.

I’ve always been a watcher. No one suspects the quiet Asian kid of harbouring very much ambition except ‘doing well at school’, so as a teenager I’ve been privy to a lot of fly-on-the-wall conversations. Sometimes, I even heard some of the most outrageously racist things from other students, and other times I got insight into the struggles of girls I never thought would have struggles.

Also, as an author I have visited hundreds of schools throughout Australia, each with their own culture and traditions. I’ve seen how certain schools promote feminism while others promote a warped sense of femininity that denies competition while pushing success at all costs. I’ve also been to a private school so understand a little about the aspirations of those students, and did not want to tar all the students with the same brush. It seems that all the news and opinion pieces about private schools in the media are rife with so much hyperbole and polarised views. So I hoped that Laurinda would allow people to take a light-hearted and yet simultaneously very serious, nuanced look at why they feel this way.

Growing up AsianThe protagonist, Lucy, is an exceptionally well-created, three-dimensional character. She should become a role model.

Wow. Thank you!

In spite of the vast amount of YA lit I read, I’m excited to have been exposed to new ideas via Lucy, such as needing a group of friends to get a boyfriend at fifteen, and recognising students who are ‘self-contained satellites’.

Could you describe Lucy, or something about her?

When I wrote the character of Lucy, I was very aware of her voice first and foremost, very certain that the reader would be hearing her thoughts and not her words. She’s what school psychologists would now call a classic introvert, but the fascinating thing is that she was not an introvert at her previous school. It is only coming to Laurinda that she loses her speaking voice.

Many young adult books stress the importance of belonging to a group, yet Lucy is content to be by herself at school after she recognises that the institution is rotten. When evil exists, we are taught to do something about it – Lucy’s non-participation in the institution is a form of resistance, and I think it’s pretty stoic. You have to have a strong sense of self to choose to be ‘a loner.’

The ‘Cabinet’, a controlling group of girls, is a masterful, chilling portrayal of teen power. How did you devise their dynamics and role in the school?

I wanted to create characters that were so entitled that they didn’t even realise how entitled they were. There’s the old cliché of the silver spoon, but I didn’t want these characters’ entitlement to be based on wealth – I wanted it to be based on cultural capital: the handed-down power that exists in our society. Their alumni mothers trained them to appreciate Royal Doulton and institutional loyalty, their fathers are powerful men and their school Laurinda trains them to be ‘Leaders of tomorrow.’

So of course they’re going to want to ‘lead’ the school. They feel it’s their birthright. And also, being such perfectionists, they feel a duty to weed out the weaker elements of the school: vulnerable teachers, students they feel are not up to scratch. I did not want the Cabinet to be vacuous ‘mean girls’, but the sort of pressure-cooker girls you would meet at a private school who must be on top of things all the time; and yet whose worlds are so tightly-wound that any threat to their order would ignite them. And I hope readers come away with an understanding that those girls are as much victims of institutional and familial insularity as they are cruel.

You mention a number of literary texts, such as Emma, Romeo and Juliet, The Great GatsbyWhy did you include these? Emma

Those were books I studied as a teenager when I went to a private grammar school. Gatsby is a book about class and a man who will never quite belong because of his pink suit. And when Jane Austen began to write Emma, I think she resolved: “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like” because Emma, like the Cabinet, is selfish and entitled. But actually, she is my favourite Austen character because there is a gravitas and kindness to her at the end when she comes of age.

Lucy is informed by the principal that YA literature is not studied at Laurinda. Do you have a personal opinion about this provocative stance?

I studied John Marsden and Isobelle Carmody books at my Catholic College, and a novel about a Cambodian refugee called ‘The Clay Marble’ in Year 7 at a public school. It seems to me that the more ‘elite’ the school is, the more their texts seem removed from the realities of existence as a teenager.

I cannot fathom how you could teach teenagers and yet remove their experience from the whole equation. YA books taught me how to become an adult, how to deal stoically with adversity, how to negotiate with adults around me, how to cope with mental illness: they were the most important books I have ever read in my life.

I love literary classics as much as any author, yet some schools teach the heavy themes in King Lear or the humour in Austen so rigidly, with students churning out essays full of fancy vocabulary and effluent literary tricks. They teach students to be contemptuous of YA literature, and in doing so, make them into miniature, insufferable snobby adults who have to deny their constant true state of existence, which is that they are teenagers!

And you cannot teach teenagers without acknowledging that for six years of their lives, they are inevitably, inextricably in this state of young-adult-hood, with questions about how to live well each day, and how to cope, and how to look forward to things.

What do you hope to achieve with this story? Alice Pung

It’s funny, but I never got asked this question with my non-fiction books, even the book about my father and the Cambodian holocaust! I just hope lots of young adults will read it and be able to relate in some way.

I’ve always been against didactic messages in YA books. If students are studying Kafka in Year 11, then of course they can make up their own opinions!

(I guess that might be one reason some schools put YA off their booklists – some authors feel the patronising need to include ‘a positive message’ and that kills the story.)

Laurinda is an exceptional novel that will be very well received.

Thanks very much for sharing your thoughts with us, Alice.

THANK YOU for these excellent and insightful questions, I’ve really enjoyed thinking about them and answering them. Her Father's Daughter