Under the Christmas Tree Part 6 – Tis better to give than receive

It’s almost time to step away from the desk and wrap up the year. What a year it’s been, brimful of incredible stories and pictures, all of which have been a delight to share with you. It is, as they say; better to give than receive, so here are some final last minute helpful hints for something worth tucking under the Christmas tree.

was-not-me Was Not Me! by Shannon Horsfall

This fits the Naught but Nice list. Perfect for the school holidays, this picture book by talented newcomer, Shannon Horsfall will have kids swinging from the chandeliers and surging through the high seas with her calamitous Not Me character. He is cheeky and illusive and always hangs the blame for the mess on the carpet or the floods in the bathroom on his twin brother, Me. Mum suspects foul play and is not so easily fooled.

was-not-me-illos-spreadKids and mischief is a mix that portends all sorts of hilarious possibilities. Horsfall has managed to bottle that common go-to-get-out-of-jail card-catch-cry that kids so frequently use, ‘Was not me!’ with lightly rhyming humour and very likeable illustrations. Something fun for bored would-be house wreckers these holidays aged four to eight.

Harper Collins Children’s Books July 2016

twigTwig by Aura Parker

Another author illustrator production this time by Aura Parker whose unique organically inspired illustrations turn this gentle story about making friends and starting school into an obvious holiday choice for four to six-year-olds.

Heidi is a stick insect. She is tall and slender and blends in incredibly well with her surroundings so much so that she goes virtually unnoticed by all those around her. Such anonymity does not bode well for a creature as unassuming as Heidi and she fails to make an impact on her new classmates or even her energetic teacher, Mrs Orb. Dejected and miserable, it is not until Scarlett inadvertently unearths Heidi’s indignation that the rest see Heidi for who and what she is for the first time. From then on, the webs of friendship begin to spin.

twig-and-aura-parkerTwig is a sweet tale about finding the confidence to embark on new adventures. It is also a glorious detailed experience of visual discovery. Each of the end papers is crawling with critters and bugs of every description with prompts to seek them out. Twig is a marvellous way of getting real with bugs with a captivating nod to counting, species classification, biology, and colour. A picture book to truly pour over.

Scholastic Press November 2016

elephants-have-wingsElephants Have Wings by Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro

We have reviewed this one before (read Julie Fison’s encounter with Susanne Gervay, here) but it’s worth special mention and a prime place under the Christmas tree.

At a time in our history when there should be no child that suffers comes this powerful picture book by the accomplished team of Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro. Based partly on the ancient parable the Blind Men and the Elephant, this outstanding work is suffused with elegance, immense spirit and a beauty that young children will recognise and draw from even if they are not able to comprehend the complexities that lie within each page.

My daughter was nine when she first read it and stated, ‘It is great out of the box thinking isn’t it? I mean, who would have thought that elephants could fly.’ Indeed, capturing the essence of the blind men and the elephant in a picture book is one thing. Exhibiting it with such exquisite heart and sensitivity as the team of Gervay and Pignataro do is higher than commendable.

The journey of discovery begins one night as two young siblings beg their father for a bedtime tale. This particular night he tells their grandfather’s story, thus spanning the generations. From his recount, we learn of a group of children from varying cultural backgrounds intent on going out one dark night in search of a secret. They each find part of something, each certain they are right in their assumption of what it is, each unwilling to accept that their interpretation of their discovery whilst subjectively correct in one instance could also be part some bigger picture. They ‘argued until everyone was angry’ – my favourite line in the book, also one of the most disparagingly accurate of observations. It is not until grandfather appears with his candlelight that the children discover that each of them ‘was right, but also wrong’ and the magnificent elephant is revealed.

But what of the secret? As brother and sister embark upon the elephant’s sturdy back and soar with him over the many glorious fabrics of their world, they come to appreciate not only the beauty that surrounds them but also the cracks that threaten that beauty, until finally they arrive home, conscious now of their differences and sameness.

elephants-have-wings-illos-spreadThe subtle nuances so intricately and delicately woven into this creation are numerous. Pignataro’s textured, collaged illustrations, lift and transport, defying gravity and borders. They convey a rich tapestry of multiculturalism, religion, and ultimately, Nirvana – a divine realisation of self and the ability to see past fear, a call to reach out for harmony. The use of the colours of the Chakra, of pages drained of any pigment and then restored, provide reasons to clutch tightly to life, ride out derision, to hope – to forge forward.

Gervay’s impossibly expressive narrative articulates confusion, disaccord, reconciliation, and understanding, prompting young readers to ponder and question all that which they see (and hear) around them. To paraphrase the words of George R R Martin ‘Just open your eyes… is all that is needing. The eyes see true…then comes the thinking and in that knowing the truth.’

Supremely brave, eloquent and masterful, Elephants Have Wings will initiate discussion over many shared readings; it is one to treasure and grow with.

Ford Street Publishing October 2014

Find your elephant within as soon as you possibly can.

Cherish your Christmas moments. Give a Book. Read lots!

See you in 2017!


A beauty – Rich and Rare

RIch and Rare cover Med ResThere really is something for everyone in Ford Street Publishing’s latest collection of Australian stories, poetry and artwork for teens – Rich and Rare. With pieces from almost 50 fab authors and illustrators, including Shaun Tan, Judith Rossell, Susanne Gervay, Gary Crew, Justin D’Ath and Michael Gerard Bauer (to mention a few), the anthology delivers tantalizing morsels to suit every reading taste. There’s an alien invasion, a Dickensian-style thriller, a warrior adventure in old Japan, a bushranger tale, intrigue in the cane fields of northern Queensland and much, much more.

Editor Paul Collins joins me ahead of next month’s book launch to take us inside Rich and Rare and to reflect on his own prolific and successful career as a writer, editor and publisher. Paul is best known for his fantasy and science fiction titles which include The Jelindel ChroniclesThe Quentaris Chronicles ─ co-edited with Michael Pryor, and The Warlock’s Child, done in collaboration with Sean McMullen. He also runs Ford Street Publishing and the Creative Net Speakers’ Agency.

JF: Congratulations, on Rich and Rare, Paul. What a line-up of Australian talent! What can readers expect from this collection?

PC: I’d like to think a sumptuous literary feast. No one will go away hungry, as the collection is a literary banquet with something for everyone.

JF: How does it compare to others anthologies you’ve edited?

PC: Anthologies aren’t as easy to put together as they might seem. An editor starts off with a list of potential contributors. I’ve been lucky in as much that most of my list this time around contributed illustrations, stories or poems. Across the three anthologies I’ve edited lately, I think everyone I’ve approached is represented. But not one of the collections has everyone. So too people reading Rich and Rare will be happy to see some contributors lacking in the other anthologies, but on the reverse mystified that others are missing. This collection is more illustrative and has longer and more varied works. This will please some, and perhaps disappoint others. So in answer to your question, it’s very subjective. A creator’s latest work is always their “best” work.

JF: What are the challenges of editing such a large collection of stories, poems and artwork?

PAUL-COLLINS-PC: Most contributors aren’t precious about their stories being edited. Those who are can be difficult. Working with up to fifty creatives can be challenging – remembering of course I’m working with many others at the same time. And because an editor says a story should follow this or that path, doesn’t necessarily mean the editor is right. It can be subjective. Stories especially vary in quality, and it’s the editor’s job to get some rough stones and polish them to gem standard. Hopefully, and with the help of several others here at Ford Street, I’ve managed to do this.

JF: You’re a writer, editor and publisher – how do you fit it all in? 

PC: I think I’ve edited around a dozen anthologies. This doesn’t include 45 collections Meredith Costain and I edited for Pearson (Spinouts and Thrillogies). I’ve published around 100 + books over the years, and written around 150. Running Creative Net Speakers’ Agency and the seminars/festivals does keep me busy!

JF: What are you currently working on? 

PC: Right now I have three plays and two short story collections (the latter in collaboration with Meredith Costain) coming out from other publishers. This year I published around 16 books. I have my first 2016 title, Dance, Bilby, Dance, by Tricia Oktober, ready to go to the printer.

JF: How did you get started as a writer and what led you to publishing?

PC: I self-published my first novel at the age of nineteen. Realising it wasn’t good enough, I figured I’d move into publishing other people’s work. I published Australia’s first heroic/epic fantasy novels in the early 80s. I also published science fiction books. Losing distribution I returned to writing. My first book was published by HarperCollins in 1995.

JF: You’re best known for your fantasy and science fiction writing – what appeals about those genres?

PC: They’re as far away from contemporary as you can get. I think we live the lives of those people we read in contemporary novels, so why read about them? I can’t imagine why people watch TV shows like East Enders and Coronation Street, or the spate of reality TV shows. Big Brother for example must have been one of the most boring shows anyone could watch. And that’s what I feel about contemporary fiction.

JF: Does your personal passion affect your publishing decisions?

PC: No. I have published contemporary fiction, for example. I don’t just stick to fantasy and science fiction. If I think something has quality and there’s a market for it, I have to make a commercial decision.

JF: What do you wish you’d known when you started?

PC: The massive database I’ve built up over the years, contacts with book clubs and others who buy bulk books. Basically, knowledge that you need to be successful. Alas, unless someone sits down and gives you a list, you need to find all this stuff out yourself. And that takes years.

JF: What’s your advice for aspiring writers?

PC: Persistence is the key. The Wizard’s Torment was my first book – that’s the one that sold to HarperCollins. I had written it in the early 80s. It took me around twelve years to get it published. I wrote another book at the same time called The Earthborn. That was rejected by just about every publisher in Australia. An agent sent it to TOR in the US and sold sold the trilogy over there. I mentally thanked every Australian publisher that had rejected it. Just never give up.

JF: Thanks Paul, and good luck with Rich and Rare!

PC: Thanks, Julie.

Paul Collins has edited many anthologies including Trust Me!, Metaworlds and Australia’s first fantasy anthology, Dream Weavers. He also edited The MUP Encyclopaedia of Australian SF&F. Paul has been short-listed for many awards and has won the Inaugural Peter McNamara and the A Bertram Chandler awards, both of which were for lifetime achievement in science fiction, and the Aurealis and William Atheling awards. His book, Slaves of Quentaris, features in 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Die (UK, 2009).

Paul Collins website.

Ford Street Publishing website. 

Julie Fison writes for children and young adults. Her books include the Hazard River adventure series for young readers, Choose Your Own Ever After, a pick-a-path series that lets the reader decide how the story goes, and Counterfeit Love for young adults. Her latest short story – Sugar is Sweet is in Rich and Rare.  


Georgie Donaghey in the Spotlight; ‘Lulu’ Makes her Debut

Georgie DonagheyIt’s not enough to just want something and hope that it will be delivered  to you on a silver platter. Unfortunately for most of us, life isn’t that simple. What we try to teach our kids is that you absolutely can achieve your aspirations, your goals, your dreams, but it takes work, persistence and determination. In this same fashion, this is all too true for first time picture book author, Georgie Donaghey. Her dedication to her writing, the foundation of the successful Creative Kids Tales for emerging authors, and the establishment of The Author’s Shelf, are all what make her journey to publication so inspiring.

Her new book, ‘Lulu’, gorgeously illustrated by Ann-Marie Finn, published by Dragon Tales Publishing, is simply scrumptious! Lulu; a sweet, ice-fishing polar bear, has a dream. A dream to dance. With courage and resolve, Lulu abounds success, but in the end she discovers that all the popularity in the world doesn’t compare to the comfort and affection of family and friends. And she enjoys the best of both worlds.

Read Dimity’s fab full review of the divine Lulu here.

Now, let’s take a peek into the creative mind of Georgie Donaghey.

Georgie & CharlotteCongratulations on the latest release of your first picture book, ‘Lulu’! How did you be celebrate its launch?  

With lots of family and writer friends at Sutherland Shire Library. Over 100 people attended.  It was like a dream.  Susanne Gervay launched Lulu, and I was joined by Deborah Abela, Emma Cameron, Di Bates, Bill Condon and lots of other well-wishers. I wanted to make sure my first launch was extra special so went a little crazy making polar bear cupcakes, chocolates, a Lulu slice (just like LCM’s), goody bags, craft activities such as colouring sheets, polar bear masks.  I read Lulu to the kids on an iceberg made from white faux fur and cushions.    

Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

I am one of those crazy authors where their characters speak to them.  Lulu actually began in the playground of my daughter’s school.  I was tapping away on my iPad while waiting to do my first author talk to my daughter’s class, and the opening line popped into my head.  ‘Polar Bear’s life was quite cosy and nice, with mountains of fish and even more ice.’  Lulu’s name came during the publishing stage.  

How does ‘Lulu’ resonate with you?  

Lulu followed her dream no matter what obstacles were in her way.  I, like many other authors, have received too many rejections to count.  Instead of being discouraged I wear them like a badge of honor and continue to believe and follow my dreams.    

‘Lulu’ has a beautiful underlying theme of ambitiousness and following one’s dreams. What special message would you like Lulu’s readers to take away from the story?  

If you work hard and believe in your dreams, anything is possible.  

Lulu‘Lulu’ is written with a graceful poetic rhythm, perfectly suiting your charming polar bear dancer. Do you often write in rhyme, and is this your preferred style of writing?  

I’m not fond of rhyme only because you have to be spot on with it.  You can’t fool kids, the rhyme has to flow.  To publish a poorly written book is a disaster so I tried to fight the rhyme and just write Lulu as a story but clearly the rhyme won.  Would I do it again?  Well Lulu has a brother who has a story to tell and I am also working on another rhyming manuscript about an octopus.  Fingers crossed.    

What were your most rewarding and challenging aspects of creating ‘Lulu’?  

Challenging would be of course getting the rhyme just right.  I experienced both highs and lows from conception to launch.  You need a thick skin, and a lot of patience in this industry to deal with rejections and obstacles you face along the way.    

Lulu twinkledI love illustrator, Ann-Marie Finn‘s soft, pastel-looking textures and delicate shades of blues and pinks. What was it like collaborating with her? How much creative license did you allow Ann-Marie in the design process?  

As with most publishers the illustrator was appointed by the publisher.  There was no collaboration between Ann-Marie and I.  I think there was only one brief chat with Kaylene and then Ann-Marie just did her own thing.  Needless to say I am very happy with how Lulu turned out.  Ann-Marie is also a Director of Dragon Tales Publishing.  

How would you describe your first publishing experience with Dragon Tales Publishing?  

An experience to remember.  

Your literary websites ‘Creative Kids Tales’ and ‘The Author’s Shelf’ are fantastic resources for emerging authors and illustrators, and have brought their readers and listeners a plethora of inspirational information and entertainment over the past 4 years. What has been your most valuable piece of advice given or favourite experience with a visiting author?  

Thanks for the lovely comments.  Gosh! How long is a piece of string?  I loved chatting with all my guests on The Author’s Shelf and took something away from each interview.  Probably the stand-outs would have to be Posie Graeme-Evans (creator of McLeod’s Daughters, Hi5 and many other great Aussie dramas), Jackie French.  In fact Jackie and I had such a good time on air she came back for a second show.  
Tony Flowers & Nick Falk were fun to interview together.  Tony joined me in the studio and illustrated in between answering questions with Nick.  Andy Griffiths was a delight, and Dav Pilkey (Captain Underpants) was lots of fun too.  
For Creative Kids Tales I have interviewed 38 guests including Mem Fox, Graeme Base, Jacqueline Harvey, Kate Forsyth, Belinda Murrell, Leigh Hobbs, Nick Bland, Paul Jennings and many other household names.  That number is growing with guests lined up well into 2016.  
I have received lots of valuable tips over the last few years.  The best way to share them is via my Top Tips page http://www.creativekidstales.com.au/tips/top-tips.  One of the pages on CKT I am most proud of is the testimonials page.  Beautiful words from beautiful people …………  

Can you tell us a bit about your experience speaking at the 10th CYA Conference? What an exciting honour!  

I thought hosting a fortnightly radio show was nerve-racking and then chairing a panel at last year’s Kids & YA Festival at the NSW Writers’ Centre was enough to give me butterflies on my butterflies.  I have been to a few CYA’s now and have proudly worn the hat of chief tweeter.  Again this year I juggled tweeting and posting on Facebook for the duration of the conference.  Standing at that microphone and delivering my speech to 160 attendees was fun and nerve-racking.  My four minutes flew by, and I had many comments from attendees saying my journey resonated with them.  They were comforted by the fact our journeys were similar, and they were inspired to continue chasing their dreams.    

What’s next for Georgie Donaghey? What other projects do you have on the go?

I’m always setting the bar higher.  I have a lot of things planned for Creative Kids Tales, and The Author’s Shelf is beginning to take shape into something new and very exciting.  It’s a bit hush hush at the moment.  I’m writing, editing and submitting.  Fingers crossed I can announce my next book soon.    

Thank you for your insights into your publishing journey, Georgie! Looking forward to seeing more from you!

Thanks, Romi, it’s been a lot of fun.

Click on the links to get in touch with Georgie Donaghey at Creative Kids Tales and on Facebook.

Susanne Gervay’s Elephants Have Wings

susanne-gervay-2010Susanne Gervay is an award-winning author, speaker, recipient of the Order of Australia and all-round dynamo. She rushed into my life last year at the Central Queensland Literary Festival. I had the pleasure of sharing an apartment, and lots of stories with Susanne during our week-long visit to schools in Rockhampton and Emerald. Her energy was infectious whether we were visiting schools, snorkelling at Great Keppel Island or discussing stories.

Today she joins me to chat about her beautiful new picture book, Elephants Have Wings, which explores the humanity in all of us. The book is illustrated by award-winning illustrator, Anna Pignataro, who has created more than fifty books for children. 

JF: Congratulations on your new picture book. Tell us about the inspiration for Elephants Have Wings?

Elephants Have WingsSG: Inspired by my journey to India and South East Asia where I spoke in Delhi, Goa and Singapore, I returned imbued with the cultures and spirituality of India and Asia. I experienced the Baha’i Temple in Delhi where I was part of a service under the open-air lotus roof of the temple. Five young people read from their holy books from five different faiths.

I also became aware of mystical stories. One was the parable of the blind men and the elephant which is part of Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sufism. Another was in Hindu mythology, that during the monsoon rains which refresh the earth, the clouds are regarded as the wings of elephants.

Young people today are overwhelmed with media reports of terrorism and religious conflict, and it is time to reach out and create a safer world for our kids. Elephants Have Wings came out of this. It would be a gentle, nurturing picture book celebrating family, inter-generational story, beliefs in a world that is both beautiful and threatened, opening discussions of harmony, inclusion and peace.

As the daughter of refugees, action for inclusion and peace are personal. I was privileged that Anna Pignataro, also the daughter of refugees, would go with me on this journey.

JF: This is your third picture book. What appeals to you about this type of writing?

SG: I used to write poetry as a child and also adult. Writing picture books is like a return to this old love. An idea grabs my mind and heart, and with careful words laden with meaning, character and narrative, I use this spare form of writing to create story.

Gracie and JoshHowever the real gift of writing picture books is working with a talented illustrator. Anna Pignataro and also Serena Geddes (illustrator for Gracie and Josh) bring their narrative story to my words, making the picture book richer, expanding and extending ideas, bringing in their own narrative as well.

JF: It’s your second book with illustrator Anna Pignataro, can you give us an insight into that relationship?

Anna Pignataro and I collaborated closely on both Ships in the Field and Elephants Have Wings. Both are very complex books thematically. Ships in the Field is about a refugee family finding home, while Elephant Have Wings is the search for truth and harmony.

We discuss every aspect from ideas, design, symbolism, colour, characters, without constraining each other’s creative style. It is a wonderful collaboration.

JF: Apart from being an immensely successful writer, you are also heavily involved with literacy organisations and foundations. What is the reason for this?

SG: So much of what I write and do are driven by my refugee background. I deeply understand disempowerment. Without literacy there is little hope of a future. I am very proud to be a Writer Ambassador for Room to Read which has reached more than 9 million children in the developing world with literacy. My 4th and final I AM JACK book – called BEING JACK partnered with Room to Read to advocate for literacy for all children. I am also proud to be a Role Model for Books in Homes which takes books to indigenous and disadvantaged Australian children.

Being JackJF: Most of your work has a deeply personal side. Do you ever worry about sharing too much of yourself?

SG: I have great respect for young people who feel so much but have little experience or power to deal with life’s challenges. When I inform my books from personal experience, I risk criticism. That hurts sometimes. However, young people sense truth in what I write, and they find friends in my books, their own answers and pathways forward. They are worth the risk.

JF: What’s next for you? I know you’ve been working on a film script. Can you give us any details?

SG: I have contracted with the wonderful TV producer who did ‘Round the Twist’ and Animalia’. However that will take several years to eventuate.

However the adaptation of my I AM JACK into a play by Monkey Baa Theatre has been extraordinary, touring across Australia and the USA since 2008. There will be another Australia wide tour in 2015 and a USA tour. I was on part of the USA tour this year which was hugely successful and a great experience where I spoke to many thousands of kids and teachers about I AM JACK, did a lot of media and hung out with the Monkey Baa theatre team.

My new project is a children’s series called The Tales of Harry at The Hughenden Hotel. Since my children grew up in The Hughenden and I have spent so much of my life here, there are so many funny, sad, moving stories to explore.

JF: Thanks for visiting, Susanne, and good luck with Elephants Have Wings.  The Central Queensland Literary Festival crew



In Rockhampton: Michael Gerard Bauer, Elaine Ouston, Krista Bell, Julie Fison, Meredith Costain, Judith Rossell, Royce Bond, Susanne Gervay, Paul Collins and Kevin Burgemeestre. 

Julie Fison writes for children and young adults. Her books include the Hazard River series for young readers, Choose Your Own Ever After, a pick-a-path series that lets the reader decide how the story goes, and Counterfeit Love for young adults.




On My Bedside Table

Bedside read listWant to know who I like to curl up in bed with after a long day behind the flat screen? Curious to know how I spend the midnight hours? Well I can reveal that at least three of those listed below are amongst the many who keep me occupied into the wee hours of the night. But enough about the books weighing down my bedside table.

As a solution to my incurable curiosity about what  makes a good read and what is good to read, I will be featuring who and what some of Australia’s most popular authors and illustrators like to go to sleep with, or bathe with or dine with…you get the picture.

And so to kick off our inaugural On My Bedside Table post we begin with a clutch of very clever children’s authors and illustrators. Look carefully and you may just pick up an idea or two for your own reading list. Enjoy!

Susanne Gervay ~ Children’s and YA award winning author and patron, director and co-ordinator of numerous societies associated with Kids’ Lit.

Conspiracy 365 (series) by Gabrielle Lord

Hey Baby! Corinne Fenton (picture book)

Trust Me Too edited by Paul Collins (anthology of stories)

Jandamarra by Mark Greenwood illustrated by Terry Denton

Lighthorse Boy by Dianne Wolfer illustrated by Brian Simmonds

Ten Tiny Things by Meg mcKinlay illustrated by Kyle Hughes-Odgers

Gracie and Josh• I have a pile of picture books and illustrated stories at the moment. Maybe because I’m into picture books – of course there’s my Gracie and Josh illustrated by Serena Geddes there too.

Anil Tortop ~ Illustrator, designer and sometimes animator

• The second book of A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket (via Kindle)

• SCBWI bulletin

• Nonstop Nonsense by Margaret Mahy

• Downloaded picture books (on my iPad to have a look at very often. But I don’t read all of them. Just look at the pictures…)

Maggot MoonMichael Gerard Bauer ~ Children and YA multi CBCA award winning author

Just last night I finished reading Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner. A powerful, moving book that I really liked. It’s set in what appears to be England but the country is under a vicious totalitarian rule as if it had lost WW2. The story centres around a young boy called Standish Treadwell and the horror of his life, and eventually his attempt to expose a fake moon landing which is about to be broadcast by the government as an example of their power.

I’m also at present re-reading Barry Heard’s book Well Done Those Men about his Vietnam experience and the terrible effect it had on his life. A great read and soon to be a movie.

Anna Branford ~ Writer for children, maker of things and bath tub reader

There is a funny selection on my bedside table just now! Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows is there because I’ve been recovering from a cold and it is always my best companion when I’m not feeling well.

The AntidoteOn top of that is a book by the hilarious and wise Oliver Burkeman called The Antidote, which is a wonderful critique of the practice of positive thinking.

And right at the top of the pile is Sue Whiting’s new book, Portraits of Celina, which is spooky and beautiful all in the same moment.

On my Bedside table Anna BranfordFeeling inspired yet? I am. Time to grab whatever is on the top of your pile and curl up together.



Launching Gracie and Josh

On Saturday I went to Richmond Library for the launch of a rather amazing new picture book, Gracie and Josh. It was a launch that had everything — lots of people, a fabulous book, a chocolate cake and even Hazel Edwards. What more could you want?

Gracie and Josh

Gracie and Josh is written by Susanne Gervay and illustrated by Serena Geddes. The book was ably launched by Hazel Edwards, no stranger to picture books herself, having written the classic There’s a Hippopotamus On Our Roof Eating Cake. She paid tribute not only to the author and illustrator, but also to the publisher, Ford Street Publishing, for taking a risk on such book. Also speaking at the launch was a representative of Variety: The Children’s Charity, which has endorsed this book.

Hazel conducts the launch

Gracie and Josh is about a little girl and her older brother. Josh has cancer and sometimes has to go to hospital and sometimes has bad weeks when he can’t get out of bed. Despite this, the book is not at all a downer. It is joyful and hopeful and fun and utterly delightful. It focusses on the relationship between Josh and Gracie rather than on Josh’s illness — in fact, the word ‘cancer’ is never actually used in the text.

The illustrations are beautiful. They complement the text and ‘say’ things that are not said with the words. Josh’s lack of hair makes his illness obvious without the need for using the word ‘cancer’. Gracie’s expression when Josh’s beanie falls off, says so much about her feelings for her brother without the need to specify them with words. This book is a perfect combination of words and pictures, each working with the other rather than just mirroring.

This book works on a couple of different levels, very aptly demonstrated by my daughters. While at the launch, my elder daughter read the book to her younger sister. Lexi is four years old, and although she understood that Josh was sick, she didn’t really understand the gravity of that situation. She just enjoyed the fun aspects of the story and the relationship between the siblings. Nykita is almost ten, and she did understand the implications of Josh’s illness. But still, the joy in the story is what she took away from it.

Nykita and Lexi

Gracie and Josh is a really lovely book. I heard much talk at the launch about how it would make a good gift for kids who have ill family members. And yes, that is true. But I think it has much wider appeal. As I wrote earlier, it is the love shared by siblings that is the focus of the story. And love is universal.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter


Check out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

Latest Post: DVD Giveaway  — The Adventures of Merlin: Series Five





Ships in the  Field is Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro’s beautiful new picture book about a little girl whose dearest wish is to have a dog. But it’s not just about a dog. This dog symbolises hope, peace and security.

Ships in the  Field is a story of  many layers and Anna Pignataro’s illustrations are a perfect compliment for the text, and add so much to this poignant story. Her centre page spread of the refugees filing onto the boat that will take them to safety is a moving illustration that needs no words.

Just like many refugees, the little girl in this story has no name, no identity in her new country.

Underlying the little girl’s dream of having her own dog is the story of refugees; of what it’s like to find yourself in a new land, having survived the ravages of war and left your home behind.

Award-winning author, Susanne Gervay and award-winning illustrator, Anna Pignataro are part of that immigrant and refugee story.

Susanne’s parents were post-war Hungarian refugees who migrated to Australia and Anna’s parents were post-war Italian refugees facing the same kind of displacement.

So it’s not surprising that this book is so authentic in its joy and sadness.

You’ll have to read this amazing story for yourself. I’m not going to tell you why this book is called Ships in the  Field, but it’s the perfect title.

The text is heartwarming and full of hope and Anna Pignataro’s evocative watercolours will make you feel as if you are reading this story from inside the book. Look for the little details that tell a big story.

I loved the strength of the relationships in Ships in the  Field, and the hope and love woven through this story.

This is a brave and important book with a strong message told in a gentle and thought provoking way.

Ships in the  Field is for readers 7+ and is published by Ford Street Publishing.

More NYR12

In my last post I introduced the National Year of Reading (NYR12) and interviewed NYR12 National Ambassador Hazel Edwards (see “The National Year of Reading”). Today I’ve got two more Ambassadors for you — ACT Ambassador Tania McCartney and NSW Ambassador Susanne Gervay.

How did you become involved with the National Year of Reading?


Literacy is a personal passion of mine, and was one of the reasons I founded Kids Book Review. When I first heard about the National Year of Reading, I was ecstatic and immediately knew I wanted to help in some way. Soon after NYR12 was announced, Kids Book Review became a partner and I became a friend of the initiative. I began posting updates on both KBR and my own blog, and late last year, the NYR12 organisers contacted me about becoming an ambassador for the ACT. It was truly one of my proudest moments as an author.


As an author Ambassador for Room to Read, bringing literacy and books to the children of the developing world; and Role Model for Books in Homes, taking books to indigenous and disadvantaged children, it was wonderful to accept the role of an ambassador for the National Year of Reading. I love it.

Why is this initiative important to you?


Books are an enormous part of my life, and always have been. They simply make my heart race, and I knew very early on that I wanted to be an author. Being able to read is like oxygen to me. Reading has nurtured me, educated me, expanded me, delighted me, even saved me. It has taken me to greater heights than I ever dreamed possible. Every person should have this oxygen available to them.

Literacy is not vital in this communications-driven world, it is life-changing and magical. Full literacy stands between a potentially average life and a great life – in more ways than can be covered here. I believe that – next to love, food and shelter – literacy is a basic human need, and a right that all children should be well-versed in. Shockingly, 46 per cent of Australians do not have full literacy, and the majority are adults. This needs to change – and NYR12 is helping make that happen.


As a children’s author and a writer, mother and teacher, reading is so important to literacy, critical thinking and understanding the world and our place in it. The National Year of Reading is significant in raising the profile of our public libraries and connecting to organisations and supporters of reading, including Room to Read, the Writers’ Centres, school libraries, NIDA, bookstores, CBCA, CAL, Aboriginal Literacy Fund, publishers and so many more. It’s truly a nationwide celebration of reading.

What will you be doing as a National Year of Reading Ambassador?


I will be attending the 14 February launch at the National Library of Australia, and we’re planning on having a small tie-in to the event with my new book for the NLA – Australian Story: an illustrated timeline. I’m in talks with local NYR12 representatives to host a launch event for children at Civic Library around the same time, and we’re also planning on a promotional event at Government House Open Day in March. In May I’ll be promoting Beijing Tai Tai (Exisle Publishing) in Sydney and will give talks at local libraries about the initiative. I’ll be in promo mode during Book Week in August, and will organise more local events through the year, including school and library visits that encourage children to read. I’m currently running Bedtime Stories for Australian Women Online [www.australianwomenonline.com] – a NYR12 writing initiative that encourages adults reading to children –and this year’s Kids Book Review Unpublished Manuscript Award will be used to promote NYR12. I’ll also be continuing to spread the word and post updates on NYR12 via the various blogs and sites I write for.


I’ll be there at the launch of the National Year of Reading on 14th February at the State Library in Sydney. There will be launches across Australia. I have events already scheduled including speaking engagements from Woollahra Council Library Sydney to Taree Council on the NSW coast. There will be a tour of libraries later in the year. I will promote the National Year of Reading on my blog and at the events I attend. As the festival Director of the Children’s and Young Adult Literature festival at the NSW Writers Centre, I will be promoting the National Year of reading. The best part is that I’ll be reading books and encourage others to read as well!

My thanks to Susanne and Tanya.

To find out more about Susanne, check out her website. To find out more about Tanya, check out her website.

In the meantime, get reading! 🙂

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter


Check out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

Latest Post: DVD Review – Doctor Who: The Seeds of Doom





Migrants and carousels

I read LOTS of picture books! My youngest is not quite three and she loves picture books. She’ll spend ages flipping through pages and pointing things out to me. But most of all, she loves it when we sit down together, and I read them to her. So we do it every day.

You know, there are lots of really ordinary picture books out there. Some aren’t very well written. Some aren’t very well illustrated. Sometimes both text and visuals are just fine… but the overall book is missing a spark. So, when a really good picture book crosses my path, I stand up and take notice. And I’ve encountered two such books this week.

The first of these is a brand new book, scheduled for publication in February. Ships in the Field is written by Susanne Gervay and illustrated by Anna Pignataro.

The first thing that struck me about this book was the title. Ships in the field? What could that possibly mean? It’s actually a mis-pronunciation of “sheep in the field”, very common among European migrants in Australia. And once I realised this, it immediately brought up a host of memories. You see, my parents are migrants. They did, and still do, pronounce certain English words in an odd way, often adding an extraneous ‘s’ to pluralise a word that is already plural. And so we have “ships” instead of “sheep”.

Ships in the Field is a story about migrants escaping war; a story about making a new life in a new country; and the story of a little girl who wants a puppy. It is both simple and complex at the same time. A simple story about a girl, for a small child to follow and enjoy. And behind that, the story of her parents. In this book there are no country names, there are no dates, there is no specific setting, giving the story a universality and timeless quality.

“Papa grew up in a village in the old country, before it was broken. Ma grew up in a city in the old country, before it was broken.”

The illustrations are beautiful! They are filled with the same humour, warmth and subtlety as the text. There is so much to discover on every page.

Both Gervay and Pignataro are children of migrants. Perhaps that is why they’ve produced such a heartfelt and ‘real’ story.

The second book is from a couple of years ago, although I’ve only just read it. Flame Stands Waiting is written by Corinne Fenton and illustrated by Sebastian Ciaffaglione. Set in what looks like Melbourne’s Luna Park, this is the story of Flame, one of the horses on the carousel.

Flame is the horse that doesn’t move up and down. Flame is the horse that stands completely still. Flame is the horse that the kids are least interested in. Flame is the horse that always stands waiting…

Until one day, a girl named Clara chooses to ride on Flame and teaches Flame that although he can’t move up and down, in his heart, he can do anything and go anywhere.

“And now, whenever the carousel turns and the other horses dance, Flame dances too… in his heart.”

This is such a lovely book — a heart-warming story with gorgeous illustrations. Although it was published in 2010 it is still widely available and highly recommended.

If only there were more picture books as good as these two.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter

Check out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

Latest Post: DVD review – Troll Hunter





Literary speed dating with a sequel

Yesterday I attended the Macmillan Winter Sales Conference along with the team from Ford Street Publishing. Why? Because Macmillan distribute Ford Street’s books. And Ford Street will be publishing my new teen novel, Gamers’ Challenge, sequel to Gamers’ Quest, in September this year. (Actually, I got my advance copy at the conference. Exciting!) It was an odd, exhausting but ultimately fulfilling experience. So I thought I’d tell you about it…

Here’s how it all works. During the conference, half a day is set aside for a publisher’s expo. All the publishers who are distributed by Macmillan come along and set up on tables with their books and promotional material. And each publisher is allowed to bring along a couple of authors and/or illustrators. And then three hours of literary speed dating ensues.

Macmillan sales reps from around the country (and New Zealand) come along and visit each table in groups. Four or five of them sit at each table and the publisher and authors/illustrators get about 20 minutes to promote their books. Then the MC calls swap time and the reps move to the next table. And so it goes until each rep has visited each table.

The whole idea is that the reps become more familiar with the books that they will be selling into bookstores across the country. Given the number of books that are published each year, it is a real asset for publishers to have reps who are actually familiar with their books. And it’s easier for the reps to sell books that they know a little something about. So it’s a win/win situation.

It’s all actually a lot harder than it sounds. It’s nerve-wracking. It’s tiring. But also, ultimately, rewarding.

I was lucky enough to be invited by Ford Street, along with award-winning illustrator Anna Pignataro, whose picture book Ships in the Field (written by Susanne Gervay) will be published in February 2012. This meant that my book got a little extra time, as I was able to spend five minutes telling each group of reps about Gamers’ Challenge, how I will be promoting it, and why I think it’s a book that bookstore will be able to sell. And just as if I had been speed dating, I desperately hope that I’ve made a positive impression in my small amount of time — that the people I’ve spoken to will remember me; and that when they come to visiting bookstores, they’ll say something nice about my book so that the stores will want to stock it.

Like any author, I want my new book — my baby, that I’ve spent months labouring over, and that will now go out into the world on its own — to be liked and to sell well. And this sales conference was one step on the way to that goal.

But there’s still lots more promotion to go!

Tune in next time for a guest post from Hugo-nominated author Sean McMullen.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… speed tweeting, anyone?


2011 Australia Day Ambassadors

The 2011 Australia Day Ambassadors have been announced, and it’s great to see so many authors on the list. There’s Bruce Venables, Catherine De Vrye, Jacinta Tynan, Jill B Bruce, Jonathan King, Libby Hathorn, Susanne Gervay and Valerie Parv. Australia Day Ambassadors are invited as guests of honour at celebrations around the state and are often part of the activities and events on the day. As part of the celebrations, Ambassadors are asked to deliver the keynote address which captures the true spirit of being Australian. The full list can be viewed here.

Susanne Gervay talks series and ALWAYS JACK

I’ve already attested to the brilliance of Susanne Gervay’s Always Jack, so I thought, to spare you another post of flowing praise, I’d invite Susanne around to talk about her ten-year journey to complete the trilogy of Jack books. The first book in the series, I Am Jack, spawned a successful stage adaptation by MonkeyBaa, which toured NSW regional, rural and Sydney centres in 2008, and expanded to conquer Australia in 2009. In September, 2011, the play will feature as part of the Ipswich Children’s Literature Festival and then complete a season at the Seymour Centre, Sydney. Now, Always Jack has launched out of the gates, garnering a wealth of critical praise.

On Series

Why do young people wait in long queues for each new book in series such as Lemony Snicket books… Harry Potter books… Twilight?

Trademark fantasy book series by writers like Isabelle Carmody, Garth Nix, Kate Forsyth, Tolkien; crime series with authors such as James Patterson, Harlen Coben, Ian Rankin, Phillip Pulman, Alexander McCall Smith; science, romance, historical series and especially children’s series can have huge readerships.

Series are sometimes commercially manufactured of course. Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series has led to an array of copycat Vampire and paranormal series.

I remember the madness and millions of dollars for the R.L.Stine Goosebumps series for kids, spawning many other horror kids’ series. It always felt like I was reading the same story. 

So have I written a series? A trilogy? I actually nearly fell off my chair (apologies for the cliché) when my Jack books were called a series/trilogy – I Am Jack, Super Jack and Always Jack.  Maybe I have.

It’s been a 10 year journey writing my Jack books for young people. I’ve written a series when not writing a series. I wrote I Am Jack for my son after he was bullied at school, published in 2000 by HarperCollins when bullying wasn’t seriously acknowledged. I wrote it for my son and  kids, the bully, bullied, onlookers, parents, teachers community because bullying ruins your life. I Am Jack is funny, got plenty of jokes, has a wobbly Nanna and even a girl interest.

It was written as a stand alone title. Four years later, due to the success of I Am Jack, I wrote a companion book, Super Jack. Like the first book, it is funny, warm, real, giving a voice to kids and families. This time it’s about blending families as well as lots of other things from bush fires to mateship.

Always Jack carries the Cancer Council’s precious yellow daffodil and like all my Jacks it’s funny, real and jumps into everything from cancer to the Vietnam War to Jack’s first love.

All the Jack books link, but are also stand alone. They have been defined as a series because Jack and his family, their loves and lives are central to each book. However this has to be the longest ‘series’ ever – ten years in the making.

Now that I’ve finished this ‘series’, I think I get it. Readers care about the characters in the first book. They want to know what happens to them. They become fans, even when there is ten years between the first and third book.

What do you think about series? Do you find some of them compulsory reading? Is it the characters? The plots? What is the X-factor of a series you love?

What series do you want to read? Have you a single title that you are desperate to have another book or two follow?


This month is Breast Cancer Awareness month and Susanne Gervay’s latest book Always Jack tackles this difficult subject from a young child’s point of view.

Always Jack has been endorsed by The Cancer Council & National Breast & Ovarian Cancer Centre NBOCC and will be launched in Melbourne this weekend.

Always Jack was featured recently at Kids’ Book Capers in Take A Journey With Jack

Sorry, bad books exist

Sorry, bad books exist.

I know. You’d be forgiven for thinking they don’t, but they do. On this blog and others like it, bloggers focus on and praise books that move, that affect, that inspire. Because we love reading. All reading is good.

But is it… really? Sometimes, you struggle from page to page, wondering how, in a system of authors, editors, publishers, beta readers, publicists…. how a book can come out being so earth-shatteringly terrible.

Whenever I visit schools, I tell them my author origin story. I wasn’t bitten by a radioactive spider or anything equally dramatic, I was just a boy in the back of a Year Six classroom forced to read a book so earth-shatteringly terrible that I had to put it down and pick up a pen. I thought I could do it better, and I was convinced that I would.

We’ve all been there – confronted by a book that we’ve had to force ourselves to finish… Well, I told this story at a school last month, and I was told I was sending the wrong message, it’s not appropriate to talk about a bad book in a classroom – it’s encouraging kids to not read.

And I believe the opposite. Luring kids into a false sense of security, tricking them into thinking that unlike any other story-telling medium, novels are not susceptible to suckness is only setting them up for future failure. One day, there’s going to be a book they don’t connect with. One day, they are going to hate a book. Just like they hated Transformers 2, or the new Rihanna CD, they’re going to hate a book. It’s inevitable.

That’s why I think we try to limit our talk to just those good books. They’re not all good, but when a good one lands on our desks, we scream from the rooftops. Hopefully, we’re writing positive reviews for the right reasons, not to uphold some archaic notion that all reading is good. But one man’s pleasure is another’s torture, so I won’t always be right.

But I can be certain.

As certain as I am that Susanne Gervay’s Always Jack is wonderfully heartfelt. I was deathly afraid of reading this book. One, I’m good friends with Susanne, and two, this is her baby, the third part in a trilogy she has wanted to birth for a very long time (forgive the horrible metaphor). And it’s not YA. I don’t usually read anything else. This was really far out of my comfort zone. But it was so fulfilling. The way it dealt with cancer and can act to open up discussions of the disease within families is masterful. It isn’t the dramatic downer a lesser author could have made it and I loved every single second of it.

As certain as I am that Six Impossible Things is the first of many fantastic novels that Fiona Wood will gift us in the coming years. Realistic dialogue that doesn’t just grab you, it shakes you while it’s at it. It mixes humour with the subtle emotional stuff so well. It didn’t take long to read, but honestly, it’d be worth triple the investment of time. and I love me a nerdy-yet-lovable protag.

As certain as I am that there’s another amazing Australian novel just around the corner.

Ah, the joys of being perpetually adolescent.


There were so many things I loved about Susanne Gervay’s new book, Always Jack, just released this month by HarperCollins.

Jack is an irresistible character. He’s kind and funny but with the normal insecurities of a boy who comes from a blended family, wondering if his stepfather Rob loves his own son, Leo more.

But Jack doesn’t dwell on it too much. He has great friends, a family who loves him and a house full of quirky pets.

This all comes crashing down when his mother is diagnosed with breast cancer and Jack realizes that there are more important things to worry about than his stepbrother Leo, who really isn’t such a bad guy.

Mum and Rob’s wedding is postponed while she undergoes treatment for the cancer and it takes Jack’s sense of humour and all his courage to cope with what’s happening.  Like everything in his life, Jack deals with the situation with optimism and honesty. He also draws on the support of his good friends, Christopher and Anna.

Susanne Gervay tackles a difficult subject on a level that kids will relate to and without sentimentality. Her honesty and the authenticity of the character’s feelings and reactions are what make this story so poignant.

Always Jack is an extraordinary story about ordinary people. It’s a simply told story, but far from simple, delving into a difficult issue in a way that kids will relate to and will make them think ‘it’s okay to feel this way’.

I hesitate to put an age range on Always Jack because it’s the sort of book that could be read by ten to twelve-year olds, but older kids and even adults will also get a lot out of it.

Cathy Wilcox’s amazing cartoons scattered throughout the book help balance the intensity of the subject matter.

The author draws on her own experiences of surviving cancer and as the Cancer Council NSW says,  Susanne Gervay’s Always Jack makes it safe for  children, parents and the wider community to talk about cancer.

If you enjoyed reading about Jack you might also like his other stories, I Am Jack and SuperJack.


Author, Susanne Gervay admits that writing her latest book, Always Jack has been a hard ride.

When I first was diagnosed with breast cancer and my kids were 6 and 9 years old, I was overwhelmed by the thought of leaving my children. They were part of the journey , but it was hard to deal with their needs, when I faced tough surgery and post operative complications.

Then when I got it again when my kids were in their teens, it was even harder. They were in that middle of search for identity and I had to survive.

I got beast cancer again recently. It was time to write Always Jack for kids and parents and also to invite the school and community into the journey. Story journey is such a powerful way to engage young people and empower them to make positive choices.

I led the Relay for Life with my family at Centennial Parklands Sydney this year celebrating and commemorating those touched by cancer.


It’s about a great kid Jack who was nspired by my great son, Jack-Jamie. He’s like all kids – tells jokes, laughs, plays sport – surfs, does his special things – inventing. He has a great younger sister – inspired by my daughter. There’s his step-Dad is around and a Nanna who’s aging and is loving and deaf and there for them. There’s Mum (me) and then there’s the crisis, breast cancer.

Always Jack is about giving kids’ feelings validation, working out it out, as a family and community.


Because they are Jack or his sister or their friend. Kids know Jack. It’s a story they can jump into and feel and laugh with Jack’s jokes or be amazed at his inventions or help their grandparent. It’s their story and it’ll give their emotions an outlet and make life OK.

I LOVE Jack. He’s the everyman of kids –he’s funny, annoying, helpful, unhelpful, emotionally there for his family and friends – he’s a great kid.


Teachers notes are available incorporating school curricula, activities and information from the Cancer Council. Importantly there’s the Cancer HELPLINE contact details:- phone 13 11 20

According to Susanne, there’s a missing link in communicating with kids when their parent is touched by cancer.

Always Jack opens its arms to young people and parents making it OK to talk.

The Cancer Council and National Breast & Ovarian Cancer Centre endorsements are very special.

The Cancer Council has such a strong ethos to reach young people with care and hope– Always Jack is now part of that ethos.

Having written Always Jack from her own experiences, Susanne says that it was a difficult but emotionally beautiful ride.

I laughed with the kids about how ‘dumb’ the Mum was at times; and cried with the kids and the Mum too.

Always Jack was written for 9-12 years but adults can read the other story within the text.

Tomorrow at Kids’ Book Capers, I’ll be reviewing Always Jack.


To celebrate the release of her extraordinary new book, Always Jack, Susanne Gervay is visiting Kids’ Book Capers this week to talk about her writing journey and the inspiration behind Jack and his story.


When Susanne was 8 years-old she thought everyone her age wrote stories and was working on their great novel.

Becoming a published writer is a different journey. When my beloved father died of cancer, it burst the dam. I wrote and wrote. I wrote for my dad, for my 2 children, myself and sort publication.

Susanne has written ten books and she says that the thing she enjoys most about writing is

The privilege of sharing ideas with readers, impacting on some, traveling with young people on their search for identity, and being part of a special community of writers and illustrators.

But she says it can be hard to find time to write among the responsibilities of life.

Equally hard is putting  myself out there and facing criticism. I write so honestly that if feels personal and makes me vulnerable.

Susanne writes from the heart and from her own experiences as a daughter, a mother, a friend and educational consultant and the creator of a heritage hotel.

She’s had many writing achievements, but says that her greatest one was

Being flown to New York last year to speak at the World Burn Congress about the power of my young adult novel Butterflies to give hope and inspire those who have been through the fire – burn survivors, families, supporters, medical teams. I was privileged to be on the same faculty as Kim Phuc, who set up the Kim Foundation for child survivors of war . She is the 9 year old girl burning from napalm in the Nick Ut 1972 iconic photo.

Susanne is a multiple breast cancer survivor and says that her new book, Always Jack is “a book of my heart”.

I wrote ‘Always Jack’ for kids, parents, community. It’s funny, warmth, loving and reaches into those deep feelings of kids and mothers. I am moved that ‘Always Jack’ is endorsed and will be used by the Cancer Council to open communication for kids, parents & community. It’s the first time the Cancer Council and the National Breast & Ovarian Cancer Council have endorsed youth fiction.


  1. Publication is a difficult and rocky road for most. Write because it makes you laugh, cry, feel and is important.
  2. Make networks – meet other creators, join associations like the Writers Centres.
  3. Open you mind to editorial comment – take what you need from the advice and make your writing even better.
  4. Stop sending emails before your work is ready. Take your time.
  5. Have fun!!!!!!

Susanne has consistent themes of search for identity, meeting challenges and hope in her books. She writes to give a voice to young people and adults meeting life’s challenges – bullying, cancer, burns, independence, multi culturalism, divorce.

Susanne is back at Kids’ Book Capers tomorrow to talk about her own experiences with cancer and how they inspired Always Jack. Hope you can join us then.

In the meantime, you can find out more about Susanne and her fabulous books at:



ALWAYS JACK gets daffodil of approval

Best-selling Australian author, Susanne Gervay’s latest novel, Always Jack, has been given the stamp of approval from one of Australia’s most influential bodies – the Cancer Council.

It’s a rare endorsement from the organisation, commending the novel for its exploration of cancer and its impact on families. It’s all done with the insight and sensitivity of not only one of Australia’s most renowned writers, but a breast cancer survivor.

The Cancer Council said, “Susanne Gervay’s Always Jack makes it safe for children, parents and the wider community to talk about Cancer.”

For those who’ve read Gervay’s work in the past, they know she has a knack for combining provocative, hot-button issues with enjoyable stories quite unlike any of her peers. It’s great to see her masterful touch has been rewarded with the daffodil. A percentage of Always Jack‘s royalties will be donated to the Cancer Council NSW and the National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre.

Books really can make a difference.

Always Jack by Susanne Gervay
Jack?s life is pretty good – he has brilliant friends, everyone loves his funny jokes and he?s a great inventor. But things are getting complicated. Nanna?s older and wobblier, and why does his face now go red when he sees his best friend Anna? And to top it off Mum and Rob?s wedding seems to be taking over the world.

Something really scary has also happened to his mum and it?s going to take all of Jack?s courage to deal with it.

CBCA NSW 2010: A note on Melina Marchetta (and her effortless awesomeness)

Me, Melina Marchetta

I really hate the overuse of ‘awesome’ as a word, but sometimes, someone possesses so many wonderful qualities that in lieu of actually listing them all, it becomes easier just to call them awesome. Melina Marchetta is one of those people.

And yes, even she mispronounces her own name.

[Her, Susanne Gervay and I are huddled around a copy of the Conference program during a break, quietly joking to ourselves. Melina has a problem with her descriptor: “International Star”.

Susanne, clicks her tongue against the roof of her mouth, says, “Yes, but Melina, you are an international star.”

“Yes, but so is everybody else that’s speaking today,” Melina says, before pointing at all the other authors in the program and detailing their overseas successes.

I interrupt the list – “Now that I’ve got you, quickly, do I say it Marketta or Marchetta?”

“Marketta spelt Marchetta.”

“Ah.” I suppress the urge to admit that I’ve been saying it “Marchetta” for years, and correcting people who pronounced it “Marketta”. I stop feeling bad when she reads her own name aloud 3 minutes later, ch instead of k. I pull her up on it, she laughs a little.]

I’ve only met Melina three times, and yet, she’s so impossibly warm, that bumping into her in the hall is like being reunited with your oldest, greatest friend. The snappy, honest exchange that follows is the sort of thing I’m only used to sharing with people I’ve known a very long time. Sure, I’ve known her through her writing for quite a while, but it’s an experience I’ve had with no other author.

The aforementioned awesomeness helps.

If I had to describe Melina for those that don’t know her, I’d ask you to close your eyes, imagine your ideal friend, imagine that friend is also a superstar author, open your eyes, and BAM! Melina.

She’s the sort of person who deserves a throne in the front of the room, and instead, at the Conference, she sat cross-legged up the back with a few librarians, and listened intently to the speaker.

It was one of those moments that defines someone more than what they’ve ever said or written.

She is the best kind of celebrity, the kind that we feel good celebrating, without being all self-absorbed and ‘celebrity’-y.

Her speech was great too. She went through her entire back catalogue, and talked us through each book. She even dropped a few hints as to what to expect next. Clues: Finnikin. Sequel.

But yes, whether she likes it or not, she is an international star (she did just win the prestigious 2009 US Michael Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature and all). If she doesn’t like that descriptor though, she can always just settle for “Melina Marchetta: Made of Awesome”.

CBCA NSW 2010: An event like no other

Jackie French, me, Bruce Whatley

The CBCA NSW Conference… wow.

I’ve been to my fair share of festivals, but never before have I been to one that felt so inclusive. Authors and other attendees weren’t separated. My experience with other festivals, as both speaker and attendee, has been that after sessions, speakers disappear to green rooms, never to be seen when they’re not onstage. The CBCA NSW Committee (and I’ll register my bias now: I’m on it) abolished the green room for the Conference, and what a difference it made. It felt like a gathering of equals: there were authors, publishers, librarians, teachers, booksellers, students all amassed togher and relating to each other as children’s book lovers.

I was speaking with Susanne Gervay (author of the sensational I Am Jack and its sequels, not on the Committee, so there isn’t an obvious bias), and she put it perfectly:

“I really loved the set up where everyone could get together.”

And we did come together. Authors talked process (with the behind-the-scenes workings of picture book partnerships), and politics (keynote speaker Libby Gleeson with the quote of the Conference: ‘What’s the point of building an education revolution, and building libraries, if there are no teacher librarians in those buildings?’)

While there’s no way to cover the entirety of the Conference, I will write about a selection of moments that really struck me. And there were many moments. It really was the perfect place to be perpetually adolescent…

[Note: If I don’t look particularly happy in photos, disregard it… Mum’s pulled me up on smiling like Mr Bean in pics, so I’m trying to dial down the rubber-faced grin from ear to ear. Right now, I’m having difficulty finding the attractive median between ‘rubber face’ and ‘serial killer’. Case in point, I’m giddy in the above photo to be meeting Jackie French (an icon) and Bruce Whatley… can you tell? Haha. PS, this is their new book, which was launched at the Conference.]

On Inspiration

Inspiration is a tricky thing. It comes and goes, and mostly, its habits are unpredictable. If I knew how it all worked, believe me, my second novel would’ve been out by now. Usually someone in front of me has to do something stupid, or something horrible has to happen to me, and when I stop whingeing long enough to laugh and think, ‘Gee, that’d make a great story…’ – inspiration happens, and the words aren’t far off.

I’m not one of those gushing author fanboys who runs up to authors saying, ‘Wow, you inspire me so much.’ In fact, I was saving that baby up for when I met Terry Pratchett for the first time… but I found myself saying it to an author I’d only just met, and whose work I hadn’t read (obviously, since then, I’ve given it more than a glance, and it’s pretty awesome). That author was Patrick Ness, and that was Tuesday.

But our story begins on:

Monday: Melina Marchetta and The Piper’s Son Sydney launch

William Kostakis (moi) with Susanne Gervay

Book launches are great. They’re inspiring. I haven’t been to many (in fact, I’ve been to two, my own – which was pretty darn inspiring – and Melina Marchetta’s). It wasn’t being surrounded by peers in the industry (and making an awkward spectacle of myself as I was introduced to authors I’d been a fan of for a long time, and was trying to remain calm as I told them about a little blog I wrote for) that inspired me.

In fact, blame for inspiration rests solely on Melina Marchetta.

I haven’t known Melina very long. I met her a year ago. I was on a panel with her, scared to death of how I was going to introduce myself to the Melina Marchetta when the closest I’d ever come to reading her books was watching five minutes of Looking For Alibrandi on Channel Ten. So, I approached her, ready with a rehearsed and completely fake, ‘Whoa, your writing shaped my youth!’ (You know, the stuff she hears all the time.) Before I’ve started the spiel, she calls me by my first name (I haven’t introduced myself) and says how much she loved a short story I wrote in high school, and that she used to show it in class when she taught English. Cut to me thinking: ‘Melina… likes… my… writing?’ over and over and over. In fact, before our session, she didn’t even give me time to spew out the spiel. She just kept talking about me. I was struck by how normal, and humble, and nice, someone whose success can only be measured with ‘mega’s could be.

And Book Launch Melina was no different. Someone told me once, you’re not measured by how you handle the bad times, but the grace and humility you exhibit during the good times. There’s no doubting that, with her current career position, Melina is experiencing the good times. And you would never guess it. Having, since the panel, read all of her work, and knowing how successful she’s been (on account of my not living under a rock), I don’t know how someone can be as level-headed as she is.

Her writing inspires me as a writer (I hesitate to use the word ‘fellow’), but her personality, her warmth, and general Melinaness inspires me as a person.

Congratulations, Melina. Everybody here at Boomerang Books wishes you all the best with The Piper’s Son, and we’re already anticipating Book #5.

Tuesday: Patrick Ness speaks at Sydney Uni

To say Patrick Ness is popular would be to understate the fact considerably. I’d never read any of his work, but a lot of you have emailed me about him, so I thought I’d go along to see him speak (my class in the adjacent building finished at 6, he started at 6 – it was practically fate). I went expecting a room filled with teens, but what I found was a room filled with peers, authors I recognised, publishers, editors, and, granted, some teens.

He was a little late. The air was thick with anticipation – you could cut it with a [insert horrible pun with book title here]. Then, showtime.

“I think a reader can tell if the writer is joyous.”

After considering how daunting a task speaking without a topic is, he settled on establishing his own topic: joy. He said he never liked talking about author stuff, and proceeded to talk about his process: joy, joy, joy. To write is to write free of the mechanics of writing, and to just write joy.

It was great to hear such an acclaimed writer (he won the Guardian Prize), talking about writing for young adults like I do, albeit, with more flair, and more experience to back him up. It made me almost feel like I knew what I was talking about…

Namely, if you’re writing for kids: don’t write “lesson” narratives, with “issues” tick-boxes to work your way through, because they don’t equal good novels.

“Write for the teenager you were. If you think you were atypical, well, the point of being a teenager is being atypical.”

He emphasised not worrying about the genre and the audience. Cue the subtle glances from my editor – she was in the row in front, and had told me that exact thing about a bajillion times in the past year.

Just focus on joy.

“Write with joy, everything else will follow.”

The words made me want to whip out my pen and pad right then and there – well, my pen and pad were out (I was taking notes for Boomerangers), so I wanted to turn the page and plough through my new book then and there. He was really quite sensational to hear speak, and judging by what I’ve read of his work since, he has the words to back him up.

He made me want to write again, and not write to get the novel done, but write for joy.

Fans of both Patrick Ness and Melina Marchetta should keep their eyes on the blog, we have some really great prizes for you coming very soon. Signed prizes.

Boomerang @ Bookfeast 2009

Whenever William the author is invited to an event, William the Boomerang Blogger gets indirectly invited too. On Wednesday, NSW authors and illustrators braved the orange dust storm, and headed into the CBD for this year’s Bookfeast, a great event organised by Haberfield school librarian Michael Fraser.

Some Boomerang Books Blog alums were there, including Deborah Abela, Belinda Murrell, Richard Harland and Kate Forsyth. Also there was Susanne Gervay, whose I Am Jack’s stage adaptation by MonkeyBaa is on until October 2 at the Seymour Theatre and is the talk of the town, Duncan Ball, Sue Whiting, Jenny Hale, and my current favourite (and the insanely funny) illustrator Sarah Davies, who was just awarded Best New Young Illustrator by the CBCA for the powerful Mending Lucille.

Now, pictures!