Review: Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil

9781742973951Oh where do I even start to sum up my love for Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil?! The awesomeness of this book is mind-blowing. I’m shouting its praises far and wide and adding it to my “favourite of ever” shelf. It ticks all the boxes: good writing, excellent characters, adorable romance. OH and did I mention this is an Australian book?! Let us just skyrocket to the moon in the awesomeness category.

Contrary to suspicions aroused by the title, this is not a sci-fi novel. It’s an adorably realistic Aussie contemporary. The narrator is 16-year-old Sam (not Sammy, don’t even think about it), who goes to a dodgy high school and wishes he could fast-forward his life…about 20 years, or so. He’s obsessed with films (old horrors particularly) and he writes screenplays. His current project is Killer Cats from the Third Moon of Jupiter (it’s a working title). Sam thinks it sucks, like every other part of his life.

I really like Sam. He felt very realistic (down to the “grunting over holding a conversation”…and anyone with a brother will know what that’s like) and I honestly feel like he’s a character you could meet in real life.

The secondary characters are equally marvellous and well written. Everyone just leaped off the page and they were all dimensional an complex. Firstly there’s Mike, Sam’s best friend — he’s gay and quiet and has “one expression” and only Sam can tell he has other emotions. They’re like DUDE BEST BUDS. And I love a book about friendship like this. Then there’s Adrian…who feels like “that friend you have” but sometimes wish you didn’t? He’s described as a troll. How nice. Then there’s Allison, who is, unfortunately, the weakest part of the team because I honestly forget what even her point is since it’s been a while since I read the book.

And Camilla…ah, Camilla. She’s the “love interest” and I ADORED HER FROM DAY DOT. She’s an epic combination of geek, smartness, music and mischievous. Camilla is perfect, but yet not stuck up or snobbish. JUST PERFECT FOR READING ABOUT.

As for the actual story? Well obviously I’m an enormously enthuastic fan. I MEAN COME ON. You saw that coming! It didn’t drag, although it’s not speedy-paced story. And the writing is utterly fantastic. It’s witty and awkward, and wins for the dialogue. Absolutely wins.

As for the romance? Okay, Sam is like 90% clueless. SO. That’s a little annoying to read, but I won’t say it’s not realistic. Ahem. And I think Sam and Camilla’s relationship is slow building and sweet and AWKWARD. But sweet.

And endless shrieking happiness that the book is Australian! I read a lot of American literature? So this is like a refreshing returning-home…with all the slang and the culture and mannerisms. I understood these references!

This book made my day.

“I think, because…well, I like the idea of coming up with a story that never existed before, but I don’t really want to be in charge. I don’t want to be famous. I guess I like the idea of sitting in the dark and knowing that I created the thing on screen, that it’s my story, but, like, no-one else has to know it was me. Does that make sense?”

 

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Books & Christmas with Melissa Keil

MKMelissa Keil is the author of two of my favourite YA novels, The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl (2014) and Life in Outer Space (2013).

(I reviewed Cinnamon Girl here and Life in Outer Space here.)

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, Melissa.

Where are you based and how involved are you in the YA lit world?

I’m based in Melbourne, but get to travel around a bit for writers’ festivals, school visits and so forth. The YA lit world is pretty amazing in Australia – apart from the festivals and speaking gigs, I get to catch up with other authors pretty regularly at launches and other events. It’s a lovely, supportive world to be part of.

How did your first YA novel, Life in Outer Space, get published? Which awards has it won or been shortlisted for? life in outer space

My first novel was the winner of the inaugural Ampersand Prize run by Hardie Grant Egmont, who, at the time, were looking for real-world manuscripts from unpublished YA authors. I think it was just one of those magical moments where the stars aligned and the manuscript just landed in front of the right people at the right time. It’s been nominated for a few things, including the Prime Minster’s Literary Award, The CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers), the Gold Inky, the Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards. It was the winner of the Ena Noel Award, and it was also a YALSA Best Book for Young Adults in the USA.

There’s still a buzz happening around your second novel The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl. Which awards has it won or been shortlisted for and what’s happening with it now?cinnamon girl

Thanks! Cinnamon Girl was shortlisted the Gold Inky Award, the CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers), the Western Australian Young Readers Book Award. The most exciting thing that’s happening at the moment is that it’s getting ready to be published in the US and UK early next year. Both publishers have chosen quite different (but amazing) cover looks, and the US edition has been illustrated by a fantastic comic book artist called Mike Lawrence. I’m looking forward to seeing her out in the wider world!

Why do you think these books resonate so strongly with readers?

That’s a hard question! All I can say is that I write the characters who I love and connect with, whose worlds I want to be immersed in. They feel like real people to me, and I hope that that translates onto the page.

What else have you written?

I started out as a children’s book editor, and as part of my job, wrote lots of books ‘in house’, mostly junior non-fiction and preschool early-learning type books. I’ve had a picture book, Rabbit and His Zodiac Friends, published. I also have lots of half finished books and short stories in my bottom drawer!

What are you writing at the moment?

I’m finishing up my next novel, tentatively titled The Secret Science of Magic. It’s been one of the most challenging things I have written so far, but I’m on the home stretch with it now.

What have you enjoyed reading?inbetween days

The last book I read was Vikki Wakefield’s Inbetween Days, which was just beautiful, with some wonderfully complex and well-realised female characters and relationships. I’ve just started reading Carrie Brownstein’s Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, which I’ve been looking forward to reading for a long time.

Christmas is coming. How do you plan to celebrate and what books would you like as Christmas presents?

All the books! I think my friends and family are tired of me asking for books and book vouchers, but there is no such thing as too many books. There are loads of things on my wishlist – one of the things I would really love though is the complete Obernewtyn Chronicles. My first four books are original editions with covers that don’t match the newer books – as all true book-nerds know, this is just unacceptable.

Where can people find you on social media?

At my website melissakeil.com, or on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook as MissMisch77.

All the best with your books, Melissa.

Thank you for having me!

Australian YA Fiction: Meet Nova Weetman, author of Frankie and Joely

 

Frankie and JoelyMy upcoming YA column for the Weekend Australian profiles four new novels by Australian women. One of the books I selected for the column is Frankie and Joely (UQP) by Nova Weetman. Nova gives some fascinating insights into her work in the following interview.

What’s your background in books, Nova?

My first YA novel The Haunting of Lily Frost came out last year. I also published two books in the Choose Your Own Ever After series last year. Before I started writing YA and middle grade, I published lots of short stories for adults and worked as a children’s television writer.

Your new novel Frankie and Joely is about both the city and country. Have you lived in both and where are you based now?Nova

I grew up in Wonga Park, a tiny spot of a town up the Yarra from Warrandyte. My childhood was all about riding horses, catching yabbies in the dam and canoeing. Of course I fled that life when I turned 18 and moved to the heart of Melbourne. Now I live in Brunswick, a busy inner-city suburb with my kids and partner. But I still go camping a lot because I love the Australian bush.

Are you more like Frankie or Joely? Tell us why.

That’s a hard one. I think maybe I started out like Joely as a teenager. I was a bit insecure and emotionally needy, and possibly I’ve become more like Frankie as I’ve got older – less competitive, kinder, more loyal. But I’ll always have Joely’s pale, sunburn-prone skin!

What would your ideal friend be like?

A lot like Frankie. She’s loyal, loving, generous, kind and Joely is the centre of her world. Occasionally she loses herself around boys, but she is very emotionally insightful and I like how thoughtful she is about other people.

I love how Frankie carries her novel around and how she re-reads it ‘studying each sentence so that she can try to understand the author. Sometimes she imagines how the story would read if she wrote it.’ Is this what you do as a reader?

When I was fifteen, the same age as Frankie, all I wanted was to be an author. I used to rewrite my favourite Agatha Christie novels on an old black typewriter. I had a suitcase of props – a horseshoe, a deck of cards, and a piece of green velvet. All the things I imagined Agatha Christie would have in her arsenal. She was such a mystery that I wanted to understand her.

Picnic at Hanging RockFrankie’s obsession with Picnic at Hanging Rock is borrowed from my own. It was, and still is, one of my favourite novels. But I never wanted to be the author of it; I wanted to be one of the girls in it. My grandparents lived near Hanging Rock and I grew up thinking the story was true. I still remember the day I found out that it wasn’t. It was worse than being told Santa didn’t exist.

I think now as a reader I love losing myself in other people’s books. Sometimes, if they are completely brilliant, then I wish I’d written them myself.

Which other literary friendships have made an impression on you?

I’ve always liked unlikely literary friendships, like the one between Miranda and Sara in Picnic at Hanging Rock because Sara is so waifish and lost. The tragic friendship between Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby still intrigues me. And a great contemporary female friendship is the one between Skylark Martin and Nancy in Simmone Howell’s book, Girl Defective.Girl Defective

(I reviewed Girl Defective  in the Weekend Australian here.)

What other books have you enjoyed reading?

I love reading, and I enjoy a really wide range of books. I read a lot of Australian YA. Authors like Pip Harry, Claire Zorn, Simmone Howell, Melissa Keil and Ellie Marney to name a few. But I also enjoy reading adult fiction, particularly anything written by AM Homes. One of my favourite adult novels I read last year was John Williams’ book Stoner.

Lily FrostI really enjoyed your 2014 YA novel, The Haunting of Lily Frost. It’s contemporary realism tinged with a ghost story. Could you tell us why you wrote it like that?

My mum was very ill when I wrote Lily Frost, and I think looking back, I was trying to grapple with the prospect of her dying, but in a very removed way. Ghosts let you talk about death, and let you examine it from a distance. The book starts with Lily recounting the time she almost died as a child and this sense of her imminent death is then played out through the narrative. Lily has to imagine how it feels to die and that’s what I was doing around that time.

All the best with your new book and thanks very much, Nova.

Thanks for the interview Joy!

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).

‘Perfect’: Freya Blackwood and Danny Parker

ParachuteYesterday I was fortunate to hear about upcoming releases from Hardie Grant Egmont at their roadshow. Kate Brown, marketing manager, opened by informing us that there has been an 81.58% growth in the children’s book market since 2003. When comparing this with the 8.84% growth in adult fiction and 6.55% decline in adult non-fiction, the importance of children’s books is obvious.

One of the highlights of the event was hearing children’s publisher Margrete Lamond interview Freya Blackwood and Danny Parker about their first picture book collaboration, Perfect (from the Little Hare imprint). Even though it won’t be available until the end of September it did sound ‘perfect’, relaying a simple, idyllic outdoors childhood.

Both these creators already have a strong body of work behind them. Danny’s is not as extensive as Freya’s but includes one of my favourite picture books, Parachute, which was sublimely illustrated by Matt Ottley, and Tree, also illustrated by Ottley. Parachute was CBCA shortlisted last year.

Maudie and BearFreya Blackwood is one of my absolute favourite illustrators. She created the inimitable design, illustrations and print fragment collage in The Treasure Box, written by Margaret Wild, which was shortlisted in the Qld Literary Awards and CBCA. She has also collaborated with Libby Gleeson in a number of titles, including Banjo and Ruby Red and Look, a Book! One of my other personal favourites is Maudie and Bear, written by Jan Ormerod, where Freya experimented brilliantly with panels as doorways. This won the CBCA early childhood award.

Little Hare has a history of excellent books, including The Swap by Jan Ormerod and Andrew Joyner and the Audrey of the Outback junior novels, written by Christine Harris, illustrated by Ann James.Audrey

Danny also spoke about his upcoming series called Lola’s Toy Box. It wasn’t just Danny’s entertaining talk or his juggling that grabbed my attention. This series looks very special. It’s about a human girl whose problems and issues are addressed when she goes inside the toy box and interacts with the forgotten toys in different scenarios. Danny uses intertextuality from We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, Where the Wild Things Are and other well-known books. Realism bookends fantasy in his plots.

Debut author, Zanni Louise spoke about her upcoming picture book Too Busy Sleeping. This is illustrated by Anna Pignatoro.  Fascinatingly, Zanni was discovered through her blog.

Another debut author, Patrick Guest, was inspired by his son’s battle with terminal illness to write That’s What Wings Are For. It looks like another special title from Little Hare.

And one of my favourite YA authors, Melissa Keil, is published by Hardie Grant Egmont. Seek out Life in Outer Space and The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl.

Banjo