‘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.

An Illustrated Guide to the Leviathan Series

AeronauticsThere were three books in Scott Westerfeld’s awesome YA steampunk series — Leviathan, Behemoth and Goliath. I loved these books and was very sorry to see the story end. So there was much joy when I discovered The Manual of Aeronautics.

Let me start off by saying that what I loved most about the Leviathan trilogy was the world that Westerfeld created. It is a fascinating steampunk, alternative history of the 1910s. But it isn’t entirely steampunk. Only half of his world relies on steam driven technology — nations that call themselves Clankers. The rest of this world is Darwinist, relying on genetically manipulated animals rather than machinery. Mr Westerfeld brought this divided world vividly to life in his three books. He was ably assisted in this task by the amazing accompanying illustrations from Keith Thompson. As I read the books I dearly wished for more of Mr Thompson’s work.

After reading Goliath I assumed it was all over. But it’s not — because August last year saw the release of The Manual of Aeronautics: An illustrated guide to the Leviathan series.

This book is a glorious showcase of Mr Thompson’s illustrations and Mr Westerfeld’s ingenious world — every page a full-colour glimpse into their imaginations. Clanker technology and Darwinist genetic creations are put on show, accompanied by some informational text. And the book concludes with a lovely quartet of portraits.

Whereas the illustrations were the accompaniment in the three novels, with this book it’s the other way around. Whilst you may only read the text once, the illustrations are worth going over and over again. So much beautiful detail!

If you liked the Leviathan novels and the world depicted therein, then YOU MUST get The Manual of Aeronautics.

Why not check out my reviews of the Leviathan trilogy:

Catch ya later,  George

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The Valentine’s Day post

I’m not a reader of romance novels. But threads of romance often weave their way through all sorts of stories — from action/adventure to science fiction; from YA to grown-up stuff. So, in honour of today being Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d reminisce about some literary romances that I found to be particularly memorable.

Aleksandar is the Prince of Hohenberg and he’s on the run from his own countrymen. Deryn Sharp is a commoner, and she’s a girl disguised as a boy. Deryn very quickly starts to fall for Aleksandar, but Aleksandar doesn’t even know that Deryn is a girl. This “will they/won’t they” relationship is strung out over the course of three YA steampunk novels by Scott WesterfeldLeviathan, Behemoth and Goliath. Needless to say that things work out for them in the end. Yay!

Sticking with the steampunk theme, we have Colbert Porpentine, grandson of a giant juggernaut’s supreme commander, and Riff, one of the Filthies, a sub-class of people who live in the juggernaut’s lower decks. Separated by class, education and even revolution, their love for each other still brings them together in Richard Harland’s Worldshaker and Liberator.

Casting my mind back to my late teens, I remember reading about a teenage boy from the wrong side of the tracks, John Fell, and the mysterious, manipulative older woman, Delia. It’s not a match that’s destined to succeed, in ME Kerr’s Fell, but there is a lovely scene in which John makes French Toast for Delia that is emblazoned on my memory. For that scene alone, I consider it a memorable romance.

Rickey and G-man are two boys growing up in New Orleans. The odds are often stacked against them, but they make things work, and they stay together and they follow their dream of opening a restaurant together. I’ve followed the adventures of these two likeable guys over the course of five novels (The Power of X, Liquor, Prime, Soul Kitchen and D*U*C*K) and numerous short stories by Poppy Z Brite. I’m sad that their adventures are over, but very pleased that they had each other.

At the other end of the scale is an utterly doomed romance that doesn’t even really start — rich bitch Eliza Boans and nice guy Neil Fernandes in Shirley Marr’s Fury. If only Eliza had opened her eyes to see what was right in front of her all along.

Finally we have Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. Now, Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw are memorable to me for a very different reason to all the others. Reading this book at Uni, I took an intense dislike to these two characters. In fact, you could say that I HATED THEM BOTH with a passion. And I have no qualms about saying — they deserved everything they got.

And so on that note, dear readers, I will bid you all a fond farewell and a happy Valentine’s Day. 😉 If you’ve got a favourite literary romance you’d like to share, feel free to leave a comment.

Catch ya later,  George

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Goliath was worth the wait

I’ve finally read Goliath, the last book in Scott Westerfeld’s YA, steampunk Leviathan trilogy. YAY! Definitely worth the wait! Awesome book! Awesome trilogy! I want more! (Get the feeling I may like these books?)

I read and reviewed the first book, Leviathan, in August last year (see “Leviathan”). I was a little late, jumping onto the bandwagon… but that meant I had less of a wait for the second book, Behemoth. But because I read that one straight away, I then had a horribly long wait (it seemed like so much more than just one year) until the release of Goliath. Even though each book has it’s own story, the plots are very much connected and form a larger whole. Although none of the books end on a cliff-hanger, the endings leave so many plot points and character issues dangling, that these books really would be better off read in quick succession.

There is so much that I love about these books — the characters, the setting, the plot and the inventive use of actual historic events and people within the fictitious world. But I’m going to start with the aesthetics. The books are illustrated throughout by Keith Thompson, with beautifully detailed black and white drawings. I have the hardcover editions, each of which has a gorgeous colour illustration at the front of the book. The dust jackets are also wonderful — a combination of photographs and Thompson’s illustrations with metallic embossing. They are very ‘touchy-feely’’ and a pure joy to hold and gaze at.

I can’t write about these books without mentioning the HUGENESS of the titles — Leviathan, Behemoth and Goliath. Each of these names refers to a massive vehicle/creature/weapon that plays an important role in the story. I like evocative, one-word titles, and these immediately conjure up images of gargantuan creatures and epic tales. Very appropriate!

I love the world that Westerfeld has created. It’s an alternative history around the time of the First World War. The world is divided into Clankers and Darwinists — the former devoted to the use of steam-driven machinery while the latter rely on the fabrication of astonishing creatures through genetic engineering. Putting this world within a recognisable context of historic events (such as the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the Tunguska explosion) gives it a link to reality, as does the inclusion of historic figures such a Nikola Tesla. It’s also rather fun playing ‘spot the historic figure’.

The plot involves many intricacies, but centres on the characters of Aleksandar, Prince of Hohenberg, on the run from his own countrymen; and Deryn Sharp, a girl disguised as a boy. The whole ‘girl disguised as boy’ plotline is an old one, but Westerfeld makes it work. Despite the fact that we all know it will be resolved with romance, it still makes for an enjoyable, page-turning read. And that’s primarily due to the characters — they are likeable, and interesting and ‘real’… and by the end of the third book I was desperate for them to fall in love. (Okay, so I’m an old romantic at heart.) My wife, who also loved these books, would have liked the romance to have been upped a notch or two. (Not sure if that’s a representatively female viewpoint… or just her?)

My only disappointment is that Goliath is the last book. I want more! It’s such a fascinating and intricate world, with so many possibilities. I would love to see Westerfeld introduce some new characters and let us explore more of this world through their eyes. If you happen to be reading this, Mr Westerfeld, (Can I call you Scott? No? Never mind.), please consider this a plea for a decalogy.

If you haven’t read these books… WHY NOT? They’re brilliant! You should read them. Take my word for it. 🙂

Catch ya later,  George

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Not waiting for the end of the series

In my last post, I wrote about waiting for the end of a series before starting to read the first book (see “Waiting for the end of the series” — go on, read it first. This post will make more sense if you do.). I’m not the first reader ever to have done this, and I won’t be the last. As a reader, it’s all well and good. But as a writer, it’s a rather problematic approach. Let me explain…

If every reader was to hold off and not purchase the first book in a series until after the final book was published — then anything beyond book one would never get published. If book one of a series doesn’t sell well, a publisher isn’t likely to invest in a follow-up book. So…

I got to write Gamers’ Challenge because the first book in the series, Gamers’ Quest, sold well. Now, I’m in a holding pattern. I have a third book planned, but my publisher wants to wait. We need to see if book two will sell well enough to warrant a third. And so it is for other authors as well.

So, dear readers, the future of any book series is very much in your hands. If you want to see a series progress beyond book one, don’t wait — get it straight away; read it straight away; and if you enjoy it, tell people about it… spread the word. (But it you don’t like it, then… shhhh!)

I think it probably helps a series if at least the first book can be read in isolation. Richard Harland is an author who seems particularly adept at this. Ferren and the Angel, the first book in his Heaven and Earth trilogy, can be read as a stand-alone — it’s a complete story in its own right, it has closure, but it also leads on to another two books.

Harland’s Wordshaker / Liberator duology is another great example. Each book is complete in its own right. Although it’s better to have read Worldshaker first, you don’t need to in order to understand and follow the story of Liberator. And although Harland has now moved on to work on other things, there is still plenty more scope in the Worldshaker universe for more novels should he wish to return to that series at a later date.

It’s interesting to compare Harland’s steampunk novels with Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy. Each of these books is very much part of a large whole. You simply cannot read them in isolation. Much as I have loved the first two books, the story is incomplete and I have been seriously annoyed at the wait. I will not have achieved closure until the third book has been read. (It’s out this month… YAY!)

I’ve aimed for a similar structure to Harland’s books with my Gamers novels. They are part of a series, but each is a complete story in its own right. Hopefully that means readers won’t wait for the proposed third book before getting books one and two… otherwise they may be waiting an awfully long time. 🙂

Catch ya later,  George

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Goodbye 2010

2010 is almost over. For me personally, it was a bit of a mixed bag — some good stuff; some not-so-good stuff. As for writing and reading, it was a pretty damn good year. So, let me sum it up for you. Yes, that’s right — if Literary Clutter were a tv show, then this post would be the flashbacks episode. 😉

I got to do some fun school visits (check out this post on Dee White’s Kids’ Book Capers Blog), some bookstore signings (check out my Shameless Self-promotion post) and I participated in the Pigeon Letters literacy project (check out my Pigeons post). I had the honour of launching issue 2 of [untitled] and Sue Bursztynski’s new YA werewolf novel, Wolfborn. I also spent the second semester teaching a creative writing subject at the University of Melbourne (a HUGE learning experience for me). But top of the list for 2010 events was Aussiecon 4, the 68th World Science Fiction Convention (check out my Aussiecon 4 Memories post), held here in Melbourne in September.

It was a good year for books, with lots of great titles released during 2010. My top 5 for the year are as follows: (keeping in mind that there was an awful lot of great stuff I didn’t get around to reading)

  1. Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld (I’d also include Leviathan, which was published in 2009, but which I did not get around to reading until 2010)
  2. Trash by Andy Mulligan [read my review]
  3. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger [read my review]
  4. Wolfborn by Sue Bursztynski [read my review]
  5. f2m: the boy within by Hazel Edwards and Ryan Kennedy

I started blogging in 2010 with Literary Clutter and I’ve really been enjoying the informal writing approach that it offers. My teen novel, Gamers’ Quest, continued to sell steadily. I had six school readers published. I wrote another seven school readers, as well as a six book kids’ library reference series called What’s In My Food, that will be published next year. I wrote a whole bunch of short stories, some that I’ve managed to sell, and some that are now languishing at the bottom of my crap drawer. And I’ve been working on a sequel to Gamers’ Quest. I’m very excited about this and will undoubtedly post about it in 2011. I’m on the home stretch at the moment, so my blogging will be taking the back seat for the next few weeks. Don’t expect more than one post a week until I’ve handed the novel to my publisher.

So, what sort of wonders does 2011 potentially hold? I’m REALLY, REALLY, REALLY looking forward to the publication of two books — Goliath, the third book in Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series; and Liberator, the sequel to Richard Harland’s Worldshaker. I’ve got some more school readers lined up, and hopefully another library reference series (I’m still waiting on the publisher to get back to me on this one). I’m planning on starting a new novel. And I plan on continuing to blog — assuming, of course, that the lovely people at Boomerang Books still want me to. 🙂 I’ve got some interviews lined up and I’ll also be reviewing a stack of books. And then there are the videos I’ve been promising — little author interviews that I recorded at Aussieon 4. I’m afraid I still haven’t finished editing them… so you’ll have to wait a little while longer for those. Sorry!

So folks… Happy New Year. May 2011 bring you lots of exciting new books and many hours of reading pleasure.

Catch you all next year.

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Series book covers

I’m still on the topic of book covers. This time, I thought I’d look at some covers for books that are part of a series. With a series, it’s really important for covers to be recognisably part of a set, and yet still have enough individuality to not be mistaken for another of the books in the series. It’s a tricky balance.

One of my all time favourite Australian authors is Terry Dowling. He has written four collections of science fiction short stories about a character named Tom Tyson, who travels the deserts of a future Australia abroad his sand ship Rynosseros. The four books have been published many years apart and by different publishers… but they have all had the award-winning artist, Nick Stathopoulos, illustrating the covers, maintaining the stylish look that he established with the first book back in 1990.

Another of my favourite Australian authors is Carole Wilkinson, who writes the marvellous Dragonkeeper series of children’s novels. The first editions of the first three novels had gorgeous covers. I love the combination of photography with illustration, and the use of colour.

With the release of the fourth book, all the book covers were given a make-over. Although the new covers are still good, my preference is for the originals.

Philip Reeve’s Larklight novels (whimsical, children’s steampunk) have all been illustrated by David Wyatt. Although the paperback versions show more of Wyatt’s lovely illustrations, it is the hardcovers that I like best. The illustrations are contained in ovals in the centre of the covers, creating a very stylish look, and the different colours make each one instantly recognisable.

The first two books in the new YA steampunk trilogy by Scott Westerfeld have been very eye catching, indeed. Nice and shiny and embossed, the covers for Leviathan and Behemoth do indeed do justice to the fabulous stories within.

That brings me to the end of my display of favourite covers. There are, of course, lots of other covers that I love — enough to fill many, many blog posts. But I figure I should do more than just endlessly post covers. So… Tune in next time for a more personal view of the subject, as I chat about the covers of my books.

Catch ya later,  George

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Leviathan

Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan is an awesome read! I loved every moment of this YA steampunk adventure. My only problem with it, is that the next book is not yet out.

What I loved most about this novel, is the world that Westerfeld has created. It is an alternative version of our own world, where history has progressed somewhat differently. In this world, countries are allied by their devotion to either machinery or genetic manipulation. The Clankers have a society based around the use of incredible steam-driven machines, from legged walkers to airships that roam the sky. The Darwinists, on the other hand, rely on a fantastic array of fabricated creatures, from hydrogen creating beasts for air travel to lupine tigeresques to pull their military carriages. The Leviathan of the book’s title, a whale airship, is Britain’s foremost military ship.

The novel’s plot follows the adventures of two teenagers — separate at first, but converging by the end of the book. After the assassination of his parents, Prince Aleksander is on the run from his own Austro-Hungarian people. With the aid of a few loyal men and the use of an old Stormwalker war machine, he heads for Switzerland. Meanwhile, Deryn Sharp, a British girl, has disguised herself as a boy in order to join the military air service. After a mishap on her first day, she finds herself aboard the Leviathan as it heads off on a secret mission to the Ottoman Empire.

The story is set on the brink of the First World War, albeit a very different war from the one we are familiar with. Westerfeld uses many actual events and people, such as the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, as a springboard for his fantastical story. It’s an exciting tale with interesting characters and a fascinating setting. I found the book difficult to put down… and each time I did have to put it down, I would find myself anticipating my return to its pages.

My only disappointment, when finishing the book, was realising that it was an incomplete story and that book 2 was still a couple of months off publication. But I’ve learned to cope, as I eagerly await Behemoth, which is due out in October.

Leviathan is my first encounter with the writings of Scott Westerfeld. Yes, yes… I know… I must have been hiding under a rock or something. Of course, I’ve heard of his Uglies series, and I’ve always intended to get around to reading them… I just haven’t, yet. But now having read and enjoyed Leviathan, I’m even more motivated to read his earlier work.

Anyone else out there read Leviathan? Share your opinion of the book in the comments section below.

And tune in next time as I write about school readers.

Catch ya later,  George

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Steampunk

Today, ladies and gentlemen, we enter a world of manners, polite society and dark secrets; a world of amazing steam-driven contraptions; a world in which Victoria sits on the throne and we all daily sing along to God Save the Queen; a world in which class divisions are nearing breaking-point and but we all pretend they are not. Welcome, dear reader, to the world of steampunk.

Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction. It encompasses quite a lot of diverse fiction, but is usually characterised by society in an age of steam-driven machinery, often fantastical in nature. It is Victorian-esque and is often set in 19th century England. This sub-genre has been around for quite a while but has been gaining in popularity of late.

LarklightThe first book I read which made me sit up and take notice of the sub-genre was Philip Reeve’s Larklight. Set in an alternate 1851, where the British Empire extends from Mercury to Jupiter, this charming and whimsical kids’ novel has been referred to by some as steampunk-lite. But I think that it and its sequels, Starcross and Mothstorm, are a terrific read and a jolly-good intro to steampunk. I reviewed them a while back for the Australian Spec Fic in Focus website.

WorldshakerMost recently, Scott Westefield’s Leviathan has been getting rave reviews. And last year, Richard Harland’s YA novel Worldshaker hit the shelves. Leviathan is sitting on my must-read-soon pile, but I did read and review Worldshaker when it came out (check out the review). It is, without a doubt, my favourite book of 2009. So I’m extremely pleased that Richard was able to drop by and answer a couple of steampunk questions.

Why do you like reading steampunk and what attracted you to write in that sub-genre?

I didn’t plan to write a steampunk novel, that’s for sure! When I had the ideas for Worldshaker, over 15 years ago, steampunk was only a small and little-noticed sub-genre of SF. My first idea was for a great gothic castle, but – since I didn’t just want to imitate Mervyn Peake – I built my ‘castle’ out of metal and put it on rollers. From then on, the mechanical side grew more and more important as I kept on developing the world and narrative.

I couldn’t see any chance of getting the story published for a very long while, since no Australian publisher was looking at that kind of fantasy back then. So I bided my time and kept on with the developing – and in the end, steampunk/Victoriana fiction started to catch on. I started the actual writing of the novel 5 years ago, and now it’s come out right in the middle of a huge steampunk wave in the US, and an ever-spreading wave in Australia.

I think it was the novel I always had in me to write. When I look back, steampunky elements had already crept into many of my previous novels. The Vicar of Morbing Vyle and The Black Crusade are both set in Victorian-type worlds. There’s a metal world in The Dark Edge, industrial scenery in the Humen Camp episodes of the Ferren trilogy, and quirky bits of machinery in (again) the Ferren books and The Black Crusade. I’m just lucky that the world finally wanted to read what I particularly wanted to write.

For me, the appeal of steampunk is that it’s a whole new realm of fantasy. I still enjoy post-Tolkien and medieval-type fantasies, but there are so many of them. Most very competent, many very emotionally involving—but there’s a limit to their originality. All the obvious things that can be done with that kind of world have already been done. Whereas steampunk worlds still have so many possibilities—including alternative technologies and political scenarios that can hardly appear in medieval-type fantasy.

Plus I love the atmospheric possibilities of the 19th-century-that-never-existed: claustrophobic back-alleys, grime and smokestacks, fog and gloom. The Dickensian imagination!

What’s your favourite steampunk novel/story?

Let me say first of all that I haven’t yet read Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan, which I’m saving up to take with me when I start the overseas tours for Worldshaker. Since I have great admiration for Scott as a writer, it’s almost certain to join my list of favourites. (Ironically, Leviathan was my original title for the novel that became Worldshaker!)

I love Phillip Reeve’s Mortal Engines and Predator’s Gold.  (A love/hate relationship originally, because when Mortal Engines appeared, I was horrified by its overall similarities to my own as-yet-unwritten steampunk story. But I’ve got over that since Worldshaker has managed to make its own very successful way in the world.)

Of the early classics in the genre, my favourite is Tim Powers’ Anubis Gates; I admire more than love Gibson & Sterling’s The Difference Engine.

I’ve just finished reading Jay Lake’s Mainspring, which has a truly marvellous central concept.

Perdido Street StationSome of my very favourites are steampunk-ish rather than middle-of-the-genre steampunk. For example, China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station and The Scar, Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights and D.M. Cornish’s Monster Blood Tattoo books.

And did I mention Michael Pryor’s The Laws of Magic series? So much of the good steampunk stuff is coming out as YA.

To find out more about Richard and his writing, check out his website. My thanks to Richard for dropping by. And a good thing that he mentioned Michael Pryor…

Tune in next time for some more steampunk adventures along with Michael Pryor, author of The Laws of Magic.

Catch ya later,  George

Beyond the book trailer — author vids

My last three posts have been about book trailers. But there is more to video promotion than book trailers. Authors and publishers are also creating videos in which the authors talk about their books.

The most basic of these is a straight-to-camera chat, relying on the ability of the author to say something interesting in an engaging way. Unfortunately there are many authors out there who, while brilliant on paper, are really dull when talking straight down the camera lens. Most seem to be recorded on handycams and then badly edited… or not edited at all. But there are some that stand out. Here’s one that I’ve posted on this blog before (see Thirty seconds to Marrs), but it’s such a good example of what can be done with one of these videos that I’m posting it again.

In this video, Shirley Marr talks about her debut YA novel Fury. But it’s her off-hand comments about other things — from her eyelashes to kinky boots — that show her personality. This is combined with some good editing and excellent use of music to create a really engaging video. A video like this, which portrays an interesting author as well as an interesting book, does a lot more for promotion than a dry speech simply telling you what the book is about. No matter how great a book is, if the author is to engage with an audience through a video, then that author needs to come across as an interesting person.

An author can do more than just deliver a straight-to-camera chat about the plotline of his/her new book. There are lots of things that can be done to spice up an author vid. For example, in this one, Scott Westerfeld talks about going on an airship ride as part of his research for the YA novel Leviathan. He is talking straight to camera, but photos and video from his airship ride are interspersed. It results in an interesting video.

Of course, an author doesn’t even have to talk about her/his own books in order to promote them. Jack Heath, author of YA thriller The Lab and its sequels, has a YouTube Channel on which he posts semi-regular videos about all sorts of things. What they all have in common is that they begin with a quick shot of his books accompanied by a musical hook. Take a look at the post in which he compares Stephenie Meyers’ Twilight with another vampire novel, 13 Bullets by David Wellington.

Heath’s engaging, witty style is what promotes his books, even when he’s not talking about them directly. I’ve watched all his videos and as a result, The Lab has been added to my reading list. Just for good measure here’s another one of his vids, titled: “Too Much Information”, in which he discusses some of his medical issues.

What’s it got to do with his books? Seemingly nothing! But it’s entertaining. And it’s a way of creating an ‘author brand’ — an association between his books and him as an interesting, entertaining person.

Just as book trailers can vary considerably in terms of style and creativity, so too can the author video. Some authors are simply more charismatic than others. While clever production can certainly do a lot to help an author video be engaging, there are some authors out there that no amount of flashy editing can save.

Anyone out there got any fav author vids they’d like to share? Leave a link in the comments below.

And tune in next time for a chorus of God Save the Queen as Literary Clutter explores the world of Steampunk.

Catch ya later,  George

More book trailers — are they worth the effort?

Last time around I introduced you to a few of my favourite book trailers. I’ve got some more for you to look at this time. Plus, I also pose the question: Are book trailers worth the effort?

But first, let’s take a look at the awesome trailer for Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan:

It’s a complex, beautifully animated trailer. But simple animation can also work. Take, for example, the trailer for Wardragon by Paul Collins. It’s not in the same league as the Leviathan trailer, but… Some simple animation, a bit of text and some stirring music combine to make an effective trailer.

This trailer has been online for about nine months, but it’s only had about 180 viewings. This begs the questions: is the time and effort (and possibly money) that is invested in making a trailer, really worth it, if only a couple of hundred people will watch it? This is the question I put to Paul Collins, who is the publisher at Ford Street Publishing as well as an author. Here’s his response:

“I think this latest publishing phenomenon is too young to predict how useful it is. Providing publishers/authors/illustrators can get their trailers done reasonably cheaply, or they can produce them themselves, I see trailers as yet another cheap means of promotion, much like blogging/reviews, etc. Truly inspirational trailers must cost thousands, but the viral impact is tremendous. So if a book trailer can fire up the viewers to send it on, then it can’t fail to promote the book. But looking on Ford Street’s YouTube channel, I see our most viewed trailer, My Private Pectus, has only had 536 views, and the second most viewed trailer sits at 436. How many of the viewers bought the book/s? Hard to quantify!”

Check out the trailers at the Ford Street YouTube Channel.

While the Ford Street trailers are counting their viewings in the hundreds, Leviathan is clocking up multiple thousands, as is the trailer for Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (see previous post). It seems to be a case of big name authors and large publishing houses (who have more money to spend on producing trailers and promoting them) are getting the huge audiences (and huge sales), while lesser known authors and smaller publishers are struggling to get their trailers seen by more than a few hundred people.

Last year I had a book trailer created for my teen novel, Gamers’ Quest. It’s a computer animated video, put together by H Gibbens of Finger to the Bone. It’s had a little over 450 viewings. It’s not possible to know how many of these viewings have resulted in a sale. But for me it is more than just a video to be uploaded to YouTube. I use it during school talks and I also have it playing on a screen beside me when I do book signings. It has proved to be a great way to grab an audience’s attention and so has been an invaluable marketing tool for me.

I think that books trailers are now evolving beyond their initial intention. Just like the music video has become so much more than just a way to advertise a new single, the book trailer is also evolving beyond a simple marketing tool. It is becoming an art-form of it’s own. Just take a look at what the New Zealand Book Council have put together for Maurice Gee’s Going West:

Art? Or mere advertising? What do you think? And what are some of your favourite book trailers? Post a link in the comments section.

And tune in next time for even more amazing trailers.

Catch ya later,  George

Sam Downing Reviews: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

I picked up a copy of Leviathan when I was in the States last week; I started reading it on Sunday night and had polished it off by Wednesday morning, however, in that time I crossed the international date line so it actually took me even less time to finish than that. The reason I got through it so fast? It’s ace.

The only other book I’ve read by Scott Westerfeld is Uglies, and I liked Leviathan a lot more. It’s loaded with all kinds of rad things: steampunk! Huge mechanical warships and equally huge genetically engineered warships! World War I alternate history! Girls disguised as boys! Heirs to the throne on the run from malevolent political forces!

So. Much. Awesome.

But if you’re awesome-greedy and demand yet more awesome, here it is: Keith Thompson’s illustrations are gawjus. The endpapers of the book alone are worth the cover price – they make me go all Homer Simpson drooly.

The only bad thing about Leviathan is that it’s the first part of a trilogy. This means that a lot of the plot is left hanging for the second instalment, which is released in 2010… but I want to find out what happens nooooow. I’m nerdishly excited about this series and where it’s headed! Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go and stamp my feet for a bit in the hope that it’ll somehow make time go by faster.

This month’s guest reviewer, Sam Downing, is a twenty-something blogger, young-adult writer and hack journalist from Sydney. Follow him on Twitter and visit his blog here.

Boomerang congratulates: AUREALIS AWARD WINNERS 2009!

A big congratulations to the Aurealis Award-winners i nthe children’s categories for 2009!

Children’s Illustrated Work / Picture Book
Victor’s Challenge by Pamela Freeman and Kim Gamble

Prince Victor and Valerian want to get married. But Victor, in his own unusual way, must pass three seemingly impossible tests of bravery, endurance and cleverness. He must go back into the Dark Forest of Nevermore to battle a fiery man-eating dragon, retrieve an armband from the peak of a wizard’s glass mountain, and uncover a tail feather from the rarest bird in the world.

Children’s Novel
A Ghost In My Suitcase by Gabrielle Wang

Thirteen-year-old Isabelle has travelled alone to China to visit Por Por her grandmother, and to release her mother’s ashes. Here she meets Ting Ting, an orphan who has been taken in by Por Por, and learns that her grandmother is a ghost-catcher – a gift that she too has inherited…

Young Adult Novel
Leviathan Trilogy: Book One by Scott Westerfeld

It is the beginning of the 20th century, 80 years after Darwin established the foundations of modern biology. But in the world of Leviathan these discoveries changed history more dramatically than in our own. England and France have perfected the the techniques of species fabrication, resulting in a glorious age of Edwardian biotechnology. In this world, Prince Aleksandar is on the run from those who would deny him his inheritance.

Illustrated Book / Graphic Novel
Scarygirl by Nathan Jurevicius

Abandoned on a remote beach, Scarygirl doesn’t know who she is or where she’s come from. Blister, a kind and intelligent giant octopus, wants to keep her safe, but Scarygirl needs answers. Who is the strange man haunting her dreams? Will Bunniguru help her unlock the mysteries of her past? Can she trust the wily forest dwellers? Her journey takes her to the edge, and beyond…Welcome to the world of Scarygirl.