‘Fantastic’ Australian YA for Christmas

Red QueenThree new Australian YA novels, The Red Queen by Isobelle Carmody (Penguin), Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti (Allen & Unwin) and Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix (A&U) will make appealing Christmas presents. These all have ‘fantastic’ elements.

What a thrill to meet Isobelle Carmody again recently when she spoke about the final book in her incredible ‘Obernewtyn’ fantasy series, The Red Queen.

 

Isobelle’s readers are probably the most dedicated fans of an Australian YA author I’ve come across. People engage completely with her Obernwtyn heroine, Elspeth Gordie, and share their personal stories about growing up with Elspeth. As many know, Isobelle started writing the first book, Obernewtyn, when she was fourteen years old and it was published in 1987 so the series of seven books has been a long time in the making. Isobelle’s readers are relieved that, even though Elspeth Gordie’s story is now complete, Isobelle has planned other ways back into the high fantasy world of Obernewtyn.

ObernewtynI decided to buy the first book Obernewtyn rather than The Red Queen because, even though I read it when it was published, I didn’t have a copy and thought I might savour the series again from the beginning. Of course, buy The Red Queen for Christmas if that’s where you (or someone you’re choosing gifts for) are up to, otherwise work through the series. Or delve into Isobelle’s other books. My favourites are The GatheringLittle Fur (for young readers),  Metro Winds (stories for mature readers which I reviewed here) and Alyzon Whitestarr (which is inexplicably out of print).

When I moderated a session with Isobelle at the Sydney Writers’ Festival about Fantasy Worlds a few years ago, the talented Scott Westerfeld was also on the panel. My particular favourites of Scott’s books are So Yesterday and the ‘Uglies’ series (which is also available in graphic novel form).

Zeroes

He has now co-written Zeroes with the legendary Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotta. It’s an explosive whopper of a book about young people who each have a superpower. But they are ‘zeroes’ (all born in the year 2000), not ‘heroes’. It’s a perfect holiday read (and has been roaring up the NY Times YA best-sellers’ list). Which character will be your favourite – blind Flicker who can ‘see’ through the eyes of others, Chizara who can crash computer systems, Kelsie or Nate who can influence crowds, or handsome Anonymous who blends into backgrounds and is easily forgotten; but it probably won’t be Ethan with his knowing ‘extra’ voice. It’s not clear which author has written which parts but this may be revealed further into the series.

Newt's emeraldGirls aged 11 (good readers) and older will be hooked by Garth Nix’s Newt’s Emerald about eighteen-year-old Lady Truthful. I can’t do better than use the book’s blurb to describe it: ‘A regency romance with a magical twist’. It is a change of direction for Garth Nix, who is renowned for The Old Kingdom Chronicles and Keys to the Kingdom  series. Newt’s Emerald is a mystery-adventure as well as a romance, as Truthful seeks the emerald that has been stolen from her family. It’s another perfect Christmas read.

Brilliant Brisbane Writers Festival 2015

The BWF shone again. Jon Ronson’s opening address wooed everyone and we bought a copy of The Psychopath Test on the spot. What a funny, clever man.

CollinsI realised on opening night that this was my 10th consecutive year moderating sessions at the BWF. What a privilege to have conversed with writers such as Booker shortlisted authors Abdulrazak Gurnah and Michael Collins over the years.

Another past highlight was when I chaired the phenomenal Andy Griffiths speaking to an adult audience. He morphed into Vincent Price and Struwwelpeter. I’ve never seen him as funny. I chaired a couple of sessions with Boy in the Striped Pyjamas author, John Boyne the same year, and he got to share the electricity of the stage with Andy for that memorable panel. John’s upcoming Boy at the Top of the Mountain is incredible, by the way. It will be published in October.Mountain

Other years it was a privilege to speak with Hungarian holocaust survivor Peter Lantos, and to listen to Gabrielle Carey and Linda Neil share how they grieved for their mothers.

I almost swooned when invited to facilitate the session with the brilliant Margo Lanagan and Marianne de Pierres. And Morris Gleitzman and Gabrielle Wang were another unforgettable pairing.

The incomparable Michael Morpurgo (War Horse) was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to speak one-on-one with an author I have admired greatly for years. He was such a gentleman. NZ writer Kate di Goldi was delightful and, last year, Nick Earls was a load of laughs. Mem Fox (Possum Magic) was the very first author I chaired at the BWF, back in the days of tents. There have been many, many special sessions, a number of which I was called in to chair at late notice and had to wing.

A final past highlight was ‘African Stories’ with Caine Prize winners EC Esondo Waiting, and Kenyan Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor. This session was recorded by ABC Radio National http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bookshow/brisbane-writers-festival-african-stories/2973532

RosieThe 2015 sessions were right up there too. I was thrilled to moderate three separate sessions with one author in each, beginning with the inimitable Graeme Simsion talking about The Rosie Effect. Graeme delighted in his audience and met many of them in the queue beforehand and then in the auditorium before the session began. He even beat me to it and jumped on stage to introduce me! I loved how he answered the questions with clarity and stayed on topic. I won’t give away his excellent tips on how to write comedy. The Rosie Effect also deals with big issues. The audience loved him. So did I.

Forever YoungMy second session was with 2014 PM Literary Award co-winner Steven Carroll. I was quaking because his new novel Forever Young is the best literary fiction I’ve read this year and he is such an eminent author (see *below) but we hit it off straight away with a shared interest in art and music (even though I disgraced myself on stage with an innocent question about the song Please Please Me. Unfortunately Steven wouldn’t sing the Dylan version of Forever Young but in every other way he exceeded expectations with his answers to my questions. This was a session of profound insights as well as lots of laughs. I’m now reading through the rest of his stunning Glenroy series.

ShiningMy last session was with Somali refugee Abdi Aden. Abdi enthralled the audience with his powerful story in Shining: The Story of a Lucky Man, which tells how he escaped from soldiers in Somali and his torturous journey to a refugee camp in Kenya and then to Romania, Germany and Australia. I have never seen an audience with such anguish in their faces as they listened to Abdi speak about what it’s like to be a refugee. Abdi recognises the generosity of the Australian people in giving him the opportunity to shine here.

 

Other authors I admire and had a moment to speak with in passing were Cass Moriarty, Briony Stewart, Felicity Plunkett and Christine Bongers (too quickly!) and I know I have forgotten to mention some – apologies.

I also met Richard Glover when I inadvertently mistook him for an *eminent writer of literary fiction. I’ll be hearing Richard speak about Flesh Wounds soon and know he will be hilarious.

Thank you to the wonderful publicists from the publishing companies and the staff and volunteers of the BWF who looked after us all so well. Our minds are now wide open!

G Simsion

Australian YA and other fiction in London

I’m just back from a tour of (mostly indie) London bookshops.Children of the King

My visit to the Tower of London was enhanced after seeing Sonya Hartnett’s Children of the King, which alludes to the missing princes held captive by their uncle Richard III in the Tower, in a Notting Hill bookshop.

Australian YA, as well as children’s and adult literature, held its head high with sightings of Amanda Betts’ brilliant Zac and Mia, (which I reviewed here) and works by Kirsty Eagar and Melina Marchetta. I was so pleased to see my favourite Marchetta, On the Jellicoe Road on the shelves there. Watch out for the movie.Jellicoe

Karen Foxlee seems to be appreciated much more in the UK and US than in Australia. I saw Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy (for children) and The Midnight Dress. (I reviewed The Midnight Dress for the Weekend Australian here.)

And Jaclyn Moriarty has had a strong following overseas, which her own country is finally catching up with now she is winning YA awards here. Her sister, Liane’s Big Little Lies, the best seller for adults, was everywhere.

Margo Lanagan’s The Brides of Rollrock Island, published here as Sea Hearts was visible and I also noticed another crossover series, Tales of the Otori by Lian Hearn.Red Queen

It was great to see some of the incomparable Isobelle Carmody’s stunning YA works. Along with many others, I can’t wait for The Red Queen, the final in the Obernewtyn Chronicles, which is being published this November. This series is world class and dearly loved. How will Elspeth Gordie’s story conclude?

Shaun Tan’s Rules of Summer rules the world. It was everywhere, and even featured in bookstore displays.

Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief still has a high profile but Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect for adults seemed to be even more popular. Like Rules of Summer, Rosie was everywhere, which makes me anticipate my upcoming conversation with Graeme at the Brisbane Writers’ Festival in September even more eagerly. It is so difficult to write humour and we spent a car trip recalling anecdotes from his books and laughing aloud.

Australian children’s books were highly visible, particularly multiple titles by Morris Gleitzman, including his holocaust series beginning with Once.

SoonThe latest in the series, the chilling Soon, is now available in Australia, although not quite yet in the UK. Andy Griffiths’ and Terry Denton’s Treehouse series was as ubiquitous as London’s red, double decker buses and John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series was also popular. I spied books by Emily Rodda and it was a thrill to see Anna Fienberg’s stand-alone children’s novel, Louis Beside Himself, as well as her Tashi series, illustrated by Kim Gamble.

Some Australian adult authors taking shelf space were Peter Carey (Amnesia), David Malouf, Evie Wyld (All the Birds, Singing), Hannah Kent (Burial Rites), Tim Winton (Breath), Steve Toltz (Quicksand) and Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

A few standout OS YA authors on the shelves included Mal Peet (who I’ve written about here), Frances Hardinge (Cuckoo Song and Fly By Night) and Patrick Ness, whose latest YA novel, The Rest of Us Just Live Here, will be available in August. It’s one of his best. rest of Us Just Live Here

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).

Book in for the 2013 Women Writers Challenge!

Australian Women Writers ChallengeWhich of the many books on your to-read list will you pick up (or click on) next? If you’re as indecisive as me, it’s a struggle each time.

In 2013, I will have a mission to guide me. I’m signing up for the second annual Australian Women Writers Challenge, with a plan to read 27 books by Australian women writers, many of which have been gathering dust on my real and virtual bookshelves for years (the full list to come in a future post).

I found out about the event too late in 2012, but tracked the progress of other bloggers who joined in via Twitter and GoodReads with interest. So what exactly is this giant digital book club, how did it come to be, and how can you get involved? Founder ELIZABETH LHUEDE explains all …

1. What is the Australian Women Writers Challenge all about, and what inspired you to launch the campaign?



The Australian Women Writers Challenge is a reading and reviewing challenge organised by book bloggers. It asks people to sign up and read, or read and review, a number of books by Australian women throughout the year, and to discuss them on book blogs and social media. Through the challenge, we hope to draw attention to and overcome the problem of gender bias in the reviewing of books in Australia’s literary journals, and to support and promote books by Australian women.

Indirectly, the challenge was inspired by the VIDA count, an analysis of major book reviewing publications in North America and Europe. This count revealed that male authors were far more likely to have their books reviewed in influential international newspapers, magazines and literary journals than female authors.

An analysis of Australian literary pages by Bookseller + Publisher showed a similar bias (reprinted in Crikey in March 2012). 

From my own experience I know the problem isn’t just with male readers not reading books by women; it’s more entrenched than that: women, too, are guilty of gender bias in their reading. This is part of a much larger problem of devaluing work labelled as being by a woman. A 2012 study quoted recently by Tara Moss demonstrates that this bias exists independent of the actual quality and content of the work (see excerpt here).

To help solve this problem, the Australian Women Writers Challenge calls on readers to examine their reading habits and, if a bias against female authors exists, work to change it by reading – and reviewing – more books by Australian women. The quality of the work is there: it’s up to us to discover and celebrate it.


2. Is it just a coincidence that the challenge arrived on the scene around the same time as the Stella Prize for Australian women’s writing?



The challenge owes a lot to the people who created the Stella Prize. Kirsten Tranter, one of the Stella panelists, wrote about the VIDA statistics in early 2011, as did many others in the early part of that year. Without the Stella Prize, the challenge wouldn’t have been the success it is.

3. How highly would you rate the influence of Miles Franklin on all of this, and why do you think she has become such a symbol for women writers in this country?

The Stella panelists chose Miles Franklin as a symbol, I believe, because no women were shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award in 2009 and 2011, despite the prize having been established at the bequest of a woman – one who, incidentally, chose to publish under a male pseudonym.

I can see the strategic reasons for adopting Franklin as a symbol, but I also think it’s a symptom of the problem. There are far more talented Australian female authors. There are also other literary prizes that have been going for years that don’t get anywhere near the publicity of the Miles Franklin Award, such as the Barbara Jefferis Award and The Kibble and Dobbie prizes. To be honest, I hadn’t even heard of these awards before I started researching books to read for the challenge. Why is that, unless it has something to do with the fact that they, in varied ways, celebrate women?

4. A year on, do you feel the campaign has been a success?

The challenge has been a huge success. The Huffington Post Books blog published a wrap-up of recent releases of books by Australian women, Overland blog announced 2012 as The Year of Australian Women Writers, it has been mentioned on Radio National, and the Sydney Morning Herald’s Daily Life blog counted it among the 20 Greatest Moments for Women in 2012. I couldn’t have hoped for more.



5. How important has social media been to its reach?

Twitter especially has a major force in getting word out about the challenge, and has helped publicise the many reviews now linked to the blog (well over 1300). Recommendations via book bloggers and, to a lesser extent, Facebook have also been important. The real spikes in terms of hits on the blog, however, have come after mentions in traditional media.



6. You’ve done some survey research into AWW’s impact. Have you seen the results of that research yet?

A brief look at the results has revealed that the majority of respondents didn’t sign up for the challenge, but had heard about it; a majority of these also happened to read more books by Australian women this year. There are many other factors beside the challenge which have raised the profile of books by Australian women in 2012, so the challenge can’t take credit for this result, but it is a very encouraging trend.

Of the people who did sign up for the challenge, a majority read more books by Australian women than in previous years, and most reviewed more and read more broadly. A majority of respondents credited the challenge for their having a greater awareness of authors’ names, book titles and a sense of the breadth and diversity of genres being written by Australian women.

7. Do you have anything different planned for AWW in 2013?

In 2013, the challenge will remain basically the same, with the aim to read and review more books by Australian women. One change is that there will now be a ‘read only’ option for people who are reluctant (or too time poor) to review. This is a gamble – as it could easily diffuse the challenge’s goal. But it is my hope that people who sign up for this option will actively participate in the challenge.

How can they do that? By discussing books they’re reading on social media, using #aww2013 on Twitter, posting comments on the AWW Facebook page, discussing the books in the AWW GoodReads group, and – especially – by commenting on book bloggers’ reviews. Book bloggers have made a huge effort to read and review these books and I’m sure they appreciate people commenting.

8. Are the goals for the campaign the same, or have they grown with the movement?



The goal for the challenge remains to help overcome gender bias in reviewing, and also more generally to support and promote books by Australian women.

9. How can readers, authors, publishers, booksellers, the media and bloggers get involved?



The best way to get involved is to sign up to the challenge, to pledge to read and review books by Australian women in 2013, and to encourage others – friends, co-workers, family members, book group members, local librarians, school teachers and bookshop owners – to join as well. You can sign up here.

10. Can men participate (of course I know they can, but you never know, some might be too shy unless you extend them a really warm invitation!)?

Men are very welcome to participate – as they were in 2012. One male participant in the 2012 challenge was David Golding who recently wrote a wrap-up post on his participation which included a call for more men to sign up.

Another participant from 2012 is Sean Wright from Adventures of a Bookonaut blog. Sean has joined the AWW team and will be looking for ways to help get more male readers engaged in the challenge. (If you have any ideas, let him know!)



11. Who is/are your favourite Australian woman writer/s?


This is a tough question. I can honestly say my knowledge of books by Australian women is still too limited for me to have a favourite or favourites. This year I have discovered a wealth of genuine talent  – world-class authors I didn’t know existed this time last year – and I’m convinced there are many more to discover. My favourite genre is crime, particularly psychological suspense, and in those genres I’ve enjoyed the work of Wendy James, Rebecca James, Sylvia Johnson, Sara Foster, Caroline Overington, Angela Savage, Sulari Gentill, Nicole Watson, PM Newton and my friend Jaye Ford. But one of my goals this year was to read widely, which means I’ve read a lot of single books (46 so far) by different authors. The only authors I’ve repeated have been Gail Jones, Charlotte Wood and Margo Lanagan (two each). It’s not enough to go on to develop a favourite.

12. What were your top three reads by Australian women writers this year?



Only three? Eva Hornung’s Dog Boy, Margo Lanagan’s Sea Hearts tie for first, and a shared tie second includes Emily Maguire’s Fishing for Tigers and PM Newton’s The Old School, while Kate Morton’s The Secret Keeper comes in third. These are all very different books but, in my view, compelling reading. (Sorry, that’s five, isn’t it?)

13. What are you planning to read next?

I’ve just finished Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan, an emotionally devastating and imaginative speculative fiction novel, and before that was Annabel Smith’s Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, a very readable literary book about sibling rivalry. I have a huge stack books by Australian women to read, both recent releases and older titles, but I’m also keen to get back to my own writing which I’ve neglected this year while working on the challenge. Creating the new websites has required fulltime work for the past few months, and I need to get back to my own writing.

13. Could you tell us a little about your own writing? Has your work on the challenge pushed your own literary career along?

I started writing novels after I finished my PhD (in 1995) and I’ve had success in competitions with several romantic suspense novels and a fantasy title, but so far no acceptances from publishers. My latest story is a page-turning psychological suspense novel which draws on some hair-raising encounters I had working as an intern counsellor at a private hospital, as well my experience growing up with a schizophrenic father.

Earlier this year I attracted the attention of literary agent, author and former editor, Virginia Lloyd, who loved the story and agreed to represent me. With a great team now supporting the AWW challenge, I hope to get on with writing my second psychological suspense novel in 2013.

Have I been inspired by what I’ve read? Without a doubt. It has also been intimidating to see the depth, breadth and quality of the work that is out there – work that clearly doesn’t get the attention it deserves. It’s scary, in a way, to go back to my own writing now with this new ‘anxiety of influence’. I would love to write with the richly textured imaginative flair of Margo Lanagan, or the terrible emotion of Eva Hornung, or the compassionate humanity of Charlotte Wood. I would love to write crime with the sense of history and stylistic precision of PM Newton, or have the exquisite appreciation of nature and human heartbreak of Favel Parrett, or the contemporary feel and nuanced characters of Emily Maguire. I’d love to write suspense, mystery and history with the scope and readability of Kate Morton – and to have my books be half as popular with readers. I doubt I can do any of those things and I feel grief about that. I know the next step in such thinking would be “Why even try?” But what I can do is what I’ve always – sometimes hesitantly – tried to do: to write as skilfully and honestly as I’m able, informed by who I am and my unique experience of the world. If one day I get published and find readers who enjoy reading the stories I’ve created, great: that will be a dream come true. If not, at least I can be an active and appreciative reader of those writers who have a great deal more talent than me.

 

The Myth of the Children’s Book (Part 2)

“Some day, you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” -C.S. Lewis.

You might (or might not) be surprised to learn that the beloved fairy tale was originally meant for adults as well as kidlets.

Storytellers such as Perrault had Rapunzel pregnant by her hair-climbing paramore; the story of Snow White is said to be the historical real-life story of a girl poisoned by the Queen when the poor girl caught the eye of the King. Truly delightful stuff.

My love affair with the fairy tale goes further back than my swiss-cheese memory can account for. I can’t remember the first time I read Grimms’ version of Cinderella, where her ugly stepsisters cut their heels and toes off to fit the famed glass slipper, or when I first learned that the price to pay for loving a prince is your tongue cut out and an eventual suicide (a la Anderson’s The Little Mermaid).

Eventually I graduated to that masterpiece Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, but it wasn’t until Grizzly Tales for Gruesome Kids, by Jamie Rix, that I was taught some valuable and thoroughly modern lessons in life. Thrills and chills ran down my spine at the mere thought of The Spaghetti Man, who would turn children into macaroni, penne, or even the dreaded linguine! If children’s picture books help us to identify colours and language, fairy tales further develop a burgeoning imagination and a sense of reason. At the time, I lost countless nights of sleep to that burgeoning imagination, but it did have some positive effects for my parents: I forever after gobbled my spaghetti to the last limp noodle, for fear I should hear the scrape of those uncooked spaghetti fingers dragging along the floor towards me…

As for modern fairytales that are less ‘child’s play’, more ‘adults only’:

The Book of Lost Things, by John Connelly, is similar in story to Guillermo Del Toro’s gorgeous film, Pan’s Labyrinth and it’s a truly chilling read. After reading this book I needed some serious Disney movie therapy, to stop me thinking about Little Red Riding Hood spawning werewolves after laying with the Wolf. Nice. And if you haven’t read Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels (a retelling of Snow White and Rose Red) then you are missing out on some seriously beautifully-crafted language.

To finish off – a Mr. Chesterton (poet, essayist, novelist) once said:

“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”

So you’ve had a rough day at work – your boss has been an absolute dragon, and your mother-in-law can’t resist telling you (for the thirtieth time) how to raise your kids. Now imagine slaying that dragon, or watching a witch with your mother-in-law’s face dancing over red-hot coals – ouch! I don’t know about you, but when I perform that cathartic little exercise, my day feels a helluva lot brighter.

[Disclaimer: In no way am I condoning real-life violence… but gosh, when you really need it to get through a crappy day, isn’t the imagination a marvellous thing?]

Once Upon a Time, There Lived a Book Blogger…

Well, this is exciting.  My very first post in this wonderfully cozy corner of the blogosphere, talking about one of my favourite pastimes in the whole, wide world – books.

About the Blog

‘Poisoned Apples and Smoking Caterpillars’ is geared towards all things fantastical, so this blog’ll include high fantasy; science fiction; gothic Victorian fiction; paranormal fiction; historical and historical fantasy fiction; urban fantasy fiction; fairytales, myths, legends and their retellings… anything magical or removed from our current reality, basically. Fairy godmothers optional, orcs preferred.

The Philosophy Behind the Name

The blog title ‘Poisoned Apples and Smoking Caterpillars’ marries two famous motifs from my all-time favourite tales: no prizes for guessing that ‘Poisoned Apples’ belongs to the Grimm Brothers’ fairytale Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; the ‘Smoking Caterpillars’ part hails from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll (now more commonly known as Alice in Wonderland).

Make no mistake, however – this isn’t a blog specifically about children’s books. Nor is it specifically a young adult focus. This is a blog that will feature the prim, the pretty, the ugly and the bloody, the innocent and the experienced, in equal measure. Apples and caterpillars are fine by themselves, but if they’re poisoned or smoking…well, it’s a whole different matter, isn’t it?

The Authors  I Tend to Gush About

Philip Pullman’s one of them. C.S. Lewis is another. In terms of Australian authors, I pretty much worship Markus Zusak and Margo Lanagan…and if Tim Winton ever decides to write a fantasy, I’ll gush about him on here too.

The Ideal Blogger-Reader Relationship

If I have any choice about it, I don’t want to be the lone voice echoing inside some endless cavern. I’d love to hear your opinions on what I write; criticism (provided it’s constructive); suggestions for future books; book news and gossip; random stories, and anything else you feel like typing in the comments section. Consider this blog a modern, almost entirely democratic version of the Roman Senate – without that whole ‘betrayal of Caesar’ thing…

A Final Confession

To tell you the truth I was a little nervous, writing this first post. It’s a lot of pressure, particularly as I want to be the best blog hostess I can be. I needn’t have worried – if you’ve ventured here in the first place, it’s likely that you love books just as much as I do.

I think we’re going to get along just fine.

EXCLUSIVE: Margo Lanagan talks TENDER

TENDER MORSELS AND JUICY BITS

Every story needs something to keep its author going.

For any story I’m writing, I need to have an object in mind, a point, a reference that, when I look at it or prod it, starts leaking story-juice, starts multiplying possibilities, starts re-igniting my interest.

For a short story, I only need the one interesting element. Often it’s the thing that sparked the story in the first place: the two odd objects that need to be brought together (the snipers and the clowns, maybe); the transformation that requires making (the girl into eagle, or the man into warlock).

For a novel, I need a number of these objects or events; it’s possible to write a juicy bit dry for a while, and I need other areas to focus on while it changes shape in response to what I’ve done, and plumps up again in my subconscious.

With Tender Morsels, the bears were such a thing. They were in the original stories I was ripping/riffing off, Caroline Stahl’s ‘The Ungrateful Dwarf’ and the Grimms’ makeover of the Stahl story, ‘Snow White and Rose Red’. In neither story did they make any sense in terms of story structure, so part of my project was to make them make sense. The split between man-nature and bear-nature suggested the split between the real- and the heaven-world, which became the crux of the story, my main area to explore.

The Ungrateful Dwarf from Stahl’s story was another element that never let me down. Collaby Dought leaped fully formed from the source material, snarking and snatching stuff for himself. The vision of him rising from the swamp water cloaked in his silver hair, his eyes blazing out but his mouth not yet free to rant, was a key that always worked, into the atmosphere and energy of the story.

The orphan witch Hotty/Muddy/Lady Annie, had a similar effect. She and Collaby compensated for the fact that my three heroines were passive and puzzled for a great deal of the story. Every time either dwarf or witch opened their mouth, something sly or smutty came out; they had senses of humour, which my heroines were sadly short of, and they lived large and lackadaisically, while Liga, Branza and Urdda were trapped in a tiny, if pleasant, world.

These three elements, the bears, the dwarf and the cheerfully incompetent witch, were what led me back into  Tender Morsels when I’d been away from it for a while. They brought it back alive for me, gave it breath and fur and body odour, and made it tower in the doorway of my writing room, growling and griping, demanding to be written.

– Margo Lanagan

Tender Morsels was recently selected as part of the 2010 Sakura Medal Reading List, was shortlisted for the 2008 Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel, won Best Novel at the Ditmar Awards 2009, and was (joint) winner of Best Novel at the World Fantasy Convention 2009 – it’s safe to say that it comes highly recommended.

Marchetta and Lanagan vie for Sakura Medal

The nominees for the 2010 Sakura Medal have been announced in Japan, with Australian authors making the list.

In the High School category, Melina Marchetta (for her Finnikin of the Rock), Joanne Horniman (My Candlelight Novel) and Margo Lanagan (Tender Morsels) join Boomerang Books’ own William Kostakis (Loathing Lola) in the running for the Medal.

Japanese international students vote for their favourite nominee. The winners will be announced on April 28, 2010.

Margo Lanagan will be appearing on the Boomerang Books Blog early in the New Year.

William’s note: I’m deeply honoured to have been selected on the list, especially among such fine company… It’s surreal to see my name beside so many authors I grew up with, admired, and aspired to be… Now, here’s hoping an Aussie brings it home! 🙂