YA, NA and MG Fiction Defined With Recommendations

Most readers will be familiar with the genre of books referred to as YA, but what about NA and MG?

Young Adult (YA)Eleanor & Park
YA fiction generally contains novels written for readers aged in their teens, or more specifically between the ages of 13 and 20. The stories feature teenage protagonists and often explore themes of identity and coming-of-age. Having said that, YA novels can be from any genre, science fiction, contemporary, fantasy, romance, paranormal etc. Some popular YA novels include the Harry Potter series, Hunger Games series, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

Middle Grade (MG)
MG novels are generally written for readers aged between 8-12 years, with main characters less than 13 years of age. Themes can include: school, parents, relationship with siblings and friends, being good or misbehaving. Just like every genre, some MG books can have an underlying message (e.g. be kind to animals).

Some examples of popular MG novels include: Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney, Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.

New Adult (NA)A Court of Thorns and Roses
NA fiction is a relatively new genre in publishing, and in my opinion grew from the popularity of adult audiences reading and enjoying YA novels (Twilight and The Fault in Our Stars). The genre is situated between YA and adult fiction and protagonists are generally between 18-30 years of age. Themes include leaving home, starting university, choosing a career, sex and sexuality.

Some popular NA novels include: Slammed by Colleen Hoover (called CoHo by her fans), The Night Circus by Erin MorgensternA Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas and The Elephant Tree by R.D. Ronald.

On my TBR ListInheritance
I have a number of books on my to-be-read pile from the genres mentioned above, including: Inheritance by Christopher Paolini, Matilda by Roald Dahl, Reasons She Goes to the Woods by Deborah Kay Davies, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition by Jacob Grimm, The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes and 100 Cupboards by N. D. Wilson. What’s on your list?

Whether you enjoy MG, YA or NA fiction, the most important thing is that you don’t allow yourself to become pigeon-holed. Enjoy your reading, keep an open mind and explore new authors. You never know where your next favourite book might come from.

Breaking Dawn (The Film, Part 2)

Breaking DawnI went to the midnight opening of the ultimate Twilight film adaptation, Breaking Dawn Part 2 (herein referred to simply as Breaking Dawn), by myself. It’s something I don’t actually mind doing, with the midnight sessions making for fascinating people watching.

This time around it may have been a little too fascinating, with the guy behind me commandeering some of my seat with his skeevy feet (see photo). But nothing—not even a raging foot phobia—could dissuade me from watching this film.

Skeevy FeetWe were subjected to some 30 minutes’ worth of previews before Breaking Dawn began, something that’s a little testing of patience when, by embarking on seeing a session that technically starts tomorrow, you’re already up way past your bedtime.

The previews were a carefully planned marketing ploy designed to smoothly carry us grieving, now-filmless Twilight fans straight into the waiting arms of the next big-budget, Meyer-related, teen angst-inspired films.

The Host film version, as with the sank-almost-without-a-trace book that preceded it (I mean, how many of us have read it? How many of us even remember that Meyer’s written anything other than Twilight?), looks entirely rubbish.

Though a surprise inclusion in the mix, and though with Ang Lee at the directing helm and a ginormous budget at his disposal, Life of Pi, looked well done. I will, for reasons previously documented, never see this film, and the previews had me snorting inappropriately and attracting what’s-wrong-with-her? glances in my seat.

The standout preview, though, was Pitch Perfect (you can watch the trailer here), which stars Anna Kendrick (best known for her role as Twilight’s Angela, and hence the not-so-subtle you-should-totes-see-this link), Rebel Wilson (who was a standout in surprise hit Bridesmaids), and Anna Camp (for whom I developed a weird respect for after seeing her play vampire-hating Christian fundamentalist pastor’s wife Sarah Newlin in True Blood).

Kendrick’s ‘rebel’ character goes to uni and is ‘encouraged’ to (read: ambushed into) join a Glee-like club. I was part way through dismissing the film entirely, except that the preview was brilliant and brilliantly funny—think Glee without the stomach-turning twee. Call me a sucker, but it looks like Step Up meets Glee meets 10 Things I Hate About You with a bit more sass in between.

But all of that is background to what this blog’s really all about: the epic, series-wrapping Twilight Saga finale. Breaking Dawn picks up where the last film left us so cliff-hangingly (I mean, who didn’t gasp when Bella suddenly opening her newly red vampire eyes?). That is: two days after Renesme’s birth and Bella’s transition to vampiredom.

TwilightThe film opens with its characteristically beautiful-come-haunting theme song, with landscapes and nature writ large—as in macro—on screen. It’s a show-don’t-tell way of demonstrating Bella’s now-acute senses of sight, sound, and smell, and the first time we gain insight into what Edward has been experiencing all along.

From thereon in Breaking Dawn is like donning the movie equivalent of a comfortable onesie—daggy, not something you really want others to know you enjoy, but oh so comfortingly fantastic.

Breaking Dawn’s an assured adaptation of the hefty doorstop of a book, which many of us simultaneously loved and despised. Having signed on for the Twilight Saga saga, we had to complete its final installation. But Breaking Dawn read as though Meyer had both lost the plot and that she’d become too famous to be edited.

Thankfully, the film whittles the too-long book down to its key elements, reigns in some of the crazy plots (and stupid names) and, as a result, most of the characters and the tale come off looking reasonably believable. Or as believable as a bunch of humans playing vampires and werewolves in a chaste teen romance can.

Even the imprinting, which I had expected to come off paedo-creepy was well handled (and surprisingly entertaining, with Bella practically beating Jacob up and Edward watching on and refusing to intervene with unabashed glee). The romance in the love nest is tastefully done and not too awkward and corny, with Emmett allowed a ‘Did you break a lot of stuff?’ nod to the more adult elements.

Writing of breaking things, Bella’s new-found strength and speed lend themselves to some solidly funny moments, not least when she’s trying to practice walking to and sitting on a chair or when Emmett challenges her to an arm wrestle. And Kirsten Stewart made me laugh at her lip-curling and occasionally constipated stance as she tried to summon Bella’s added-in-post-production force field. I’ve missed that poor acting and frowny pout.

Volturi leader Aro is, as ever, awesomely creepy, his eyes widening in glee when he discovers the Cullen’s might have committed a killable crime. I laughed out loud when he uttered—and it could be an inadvertent coincidence, but I’m taking it to be a wink and a nod to Fifty Shades, the bestseller that Twilight inspired—‘Oh my’.

That’s not to say that Breaking Dawn’s entirely free of clunkers. The running that Bella now does with Edward is akin to the much-mocked tree climbing of previous films: super, special effects-induced cheesy. And there’s nothing more to say about the meme-inspiring sparkling in the sunlight. Except that there’s no such thing as too many sparkly vampire memes. I will also go so far as to risk hate mail by saying I think they could have chosen a better-looking baby (that and it appeared they were doing some weird soft focus around her face, which didn’t help).

Fifty Shades of GreyBella says that she was ‘born to be a vampire’, and it feels that both she and this film have finally found their feet. Maybe it’s that they’ve worked out what works or rather what doesn’t (CGI wolves, anyone?) or everyone’s finally relaxed and grown a bit into their roles, but Breaking Dawn is confident and fun and breathtaking.

Without giving too much away, there are also some elements that left (me included) the audience I-can’t-believe-that-happened gasping and then clapping in a far-out-this-adaptation-is-good kind of way. And then there are some that left me in slightly emotional awe.

The film includes some subtle nods to the films that have gone before and come full circle to recall and farewell the series’ cast and characters. There mightn’t be any outtakes (as we’d seen with Part 1 and as I’d so desperately hoped for Part 2) but I still recommend staying until the final credits roll. Now to just hang out for the 6 December Australian release of Pitch Perfect.

Fifty Shames of Earl Grey

Fifty ShamesThere’s no such thing as too much Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey, especially when it’s in the form of a savvy, fun-poking parody. Fifty Shames of Early Grey by Fanny Merkin (AKA Andrew Shaffer) is the first (but certainly not the last) Fifty Shames spoof to emerge.

The first three chapters of its existence were serialised on EvilReads.com as Fifty-One Shades—another example of the increasingly occurring self-publishing-major-publisher pick-up. And, despite its speedy release, the book of Harper’s Lampoon style is surprisingly insightful, intelligent, and well done (especially given the shabbily written original from which it draws its inspiration).

Erotica writer Alyssa Palmer nails the book in her one-sentence testimonial: ‘I’m laughing as much as when I read the original Fifty Shades.’ In fact, it’s chuckle worthy just a few sentences in:

As I brush my long brown hair, the girl in the mirror with brown eyes too big for her head stares back at me. Wait … my eyes are blue! It dawns on me that I haven’t been looking into the mirror—I’ve been staring at a poster of Kristen Stewart for five minutes.

Soon afterwards, Anna Steal somersaults into Earl Grey’s office and Merkin/Shaffer works in the first of many Twilight–poking references: ‘HOLY MOTHER EFFING SPARKLY VAMPIRES HE IS HOT.’ From thereon in, while relatively PG-rated compared with the Fifty Shames books, Fifty Shades does venture into plenty of deliberately cringe-worthy territory (if you’re squeamish of stomach or easily offended, I’d suggested ceasing reading right about now).

Steal’s Walmart boss tells her:

‘I’m just glad you’re here. You know that Anna—I’m always happy to see a full set of teeth around here.’
I smile.
‘Anyway,’ he continues, ‘someone dropped a massive load in the women’s restroom and I need you to clean it up. It’s the biggest damn thing I’ve ever seen come out of another human being.’
I head to the women’s restroom with a plunger and a pair of gardening shears, and I’m soon lost in my task.

TwilightOf course, Grey soon arrives on the scene to sweep her off her feet and provide us readers with endless opportunities for author jibes. He gives Steal a first edition of Snooki’s Jersey Shore-inspired debut novel, A Shore Thing.

The entrance to his ‘Room of Doom’ is exposed ala moving bookcase seen only in the movies by pulling on a shelved copy of Twilight. He plays a mournful tambourine, and there’s also later a reference to his—and this is one for the editors among us who can testify that it never gets old—‘dangling participle’.

The only thing I want is you, Grey emails Steal. Oh, and the latest Apple products. His survey also provides us with some gems.

I am:
a.     
Team Edward
b.     
Team Jacob
c.      
Team Edward Does Jacob

In a relationship, I prefer to be:
a.      Submissive
b.     
Dominant
c.      
Awake

An extracurricular activity I’ve always wanted to try is … Well, let’s just say I had to google them.

While Stephenie Meyer’s/EL James’ stories provide plenty of low-hanging fruit ripe for picking parodying, it’s the subtle, timely pokes that make Merkin/Shaffer’s spoof worth reading:

‘Let’s get comfortable, shall we?’ [Grey] says, removing his calculator watch and setting it on top of the nightstand by the bed.
I take a cue from him and remove my yellow LiveStrong bracelet, setting it next to his watch.

Fifty ShadesIt contains some fantastic trivia too: The Starbucks logo used to feature, apparently, a topless mermaid.

That’s not to say Fifty Shames got it absolutely right. One grating fact is that Merkin/Shaffer replaced the annoying lip biting of the Fifty Shades books with stomach-turning nose picking. The sentiments don’t marry up and this element disgusts and jars.

Likewise, the plot is sometimes a little thin and I found my attention wandering. Then again, he had to work with Meyer’s/James’ work, so I could arguably blame for them for the plot weaknesses.

But those are small irritations rather than outright flaws. And they’re more than compensated for by Merkin’s/Shaffer’s wicked sense of humour at his riding-the-coat-tails-of-others publishing contract good fortune.

‘I wasn’t lying when I said I would sell out, change the characters’ names, and hide from y’all in my brand new McMansion. Good luck getting past my alligator-filled moat!’ Merkin/Shaffer writes in the credits, making him (as if he weren’t already) a writer whose future works I can’t wait to read.

A Shore ThingEspecially as Merkin/Shaffer continued to surprise me even after the story officially ended. He finishes the book with a Boardroom Hotties feature (AKA an article in the mag the parody originally sent Steal to interview Grey for) and ‘the complete, unexpurgated list’ of Grey’s 50 shames. These include, in no particular order:

  • having a mancrush on Tom Cruise, even after all the Scientology/Katie Holmes BC
  • crying when Oprah went off the air, but never finding time to watch her 24/7-running cable channel
  • not understanding why everyone hated the Star Wars prequels so much
  • using a PC laptop with an Apple sticker covering the Dell logo
  • supporting Team Jacob
  • making frequent references to Snakes on a Plane, even though it wasn’t even funny to do so when the movie was in theatres.

I should probably also mention that it appears there’s going to be a sequel …

No Book Left Behind?

Fifty Shades of GreyFifty Shades of Grey (herein referred to as Fitty Shades, because it sounds totes more street) is, according to hotel chain Travelodge and The Telegraph newspaper, the book most likely. Most likely to be left behind in hotel rooms, that is.

Hmm. So much to unpack there. ‘Left behind’ implies deliberate ditching, but I wonder if that’s truly the case. I for one have been known to accidentally contribute my fair share of too-expensive-to-lose Apple iPhone and laptop chargers to hotels’ lost-and-found bins. (Holiday Inn, Spencer St, Melbourne being the most recent. Holiday Inn, if you’re reading this, hi.)

Books, in particular, are easy things to leave behind. They’re often kept out longer than most other items as we decide to read just a few more pages when we’re waiting to leave or before we go to sleep—they are, after all, an excellent way to pass the time. Not to mention the fact that they’re small enough to be caught up in doonas or down the backs of couches and easy to miss being spotted and as you cast your have-I-got-everything eye over the room one last time.

The Hunger GamesStill, the leave-behind figures for just this one hotel chain are pretty high: 21,786 books out of 36,500 rooms over the past year. Multiply that by all the other hotel chains and, well, maths isn’t my forte. Let’s just agree that that’s a whopper bunch of books.

Assume for a moment that people did deliberately leave books behind (quelle horreur!). The question is: Why? Did they not like the books? Did they do a bunch of shopping and no longer have room in their suitcase? As someone firmly entrenched in the no-book-left-behind camp, both are completely foreign and utterly abhorrent to me—I’d sacrifice undies before I’d sacrifice books.

But I digress into didn’t-need-to-know territory.

I wonder what happens to said books after they’re left behind? Are they donated to the equivalents of The Footpath Library or Lifeline?

I noticed that the ditched books list reads like a Lifeline book sale table: Stieg Larsson’s Girl-plus-Dragon-Tattoo trilogy and the aforementioned Fitty Shades. (Shudder—who’s really going to want to commandeer a second-hand copy of the latter?) You know the ones: airport fiction books that despite everyone’s denials that they were reading them, were wildly, mainstreamingly popular. Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code presumably made the list some years back.

The Da Vinci CodeSurprisingly, Suzanne CollinsThe Hunger Games trilogy also made the list. Which perhaps lends cred to the accidental rather than deliberate leaving behind—I mean, book one, at least, is one you’d want to hold onto, surely?

The logical next-step question is: As e-book sales increase, will we see fewer (or even no) books left behind? Or just more expensive e-book power cables. Holiday Inn, Spencer St, Melbourne … hi!

Three Loves Are The Charm?

TwilightAs if it wasn’t possible to make me love Kill Your Darlings (KYD) journal any more than I already did, they posted the following, hot-damn-I-wish-I’d-thought-of-that blog: Three’s a Crowd(pleaser).

The premise (just in case you didn’t choose to click on that link)? That, as KYD Online Assistant Stephanie Van Schilt wrote:

Love triangles are standard in literature, history, song, verse, mythology, television, and film. They are endlessly present, a useful trope in their various shades—pining, pleading, or competing. The popular one plus one plus one equation is conducive to spicy rivalries that both please and divide audiences, appealing to our innate tendency to speculate whether the grass is indeed greener.

Yeah, what she said.

I mean, on some level I knew that. On another, it’s quite uncanny just how many love triangles there are out there. Think about it. If you’re a Big Brother fan, you’ll know there’s one playing out nightly on our TV screens right now. And what’s so wrong with us that we can’t accept that the grass we have is plenty green?

The first that sprang to my mind is Twilight’s Bella, sandwiched between Edward and Jacob. Oh, and its erotic fiction spin-off with Ana + Christian + her college photographer mate + (at a stretch) her publishing house boss (both of whose names I’ve completely forgotten).

Fifty Shades of GreyWhile neither Bella nor Ana may have actively encouraged their second-choice lovers, both females didn’t do a whole lot to discourage them either (Bella’s jealously at Jacob’s freaky imprinting on her daughter made it clear she liked the attention).

Refreshingly, though, Van Schilt didn’t mention those at all. She went old school, more interesting, and in at least one case higher brow. I mean, who knew about Helen of Troy potentially being willing participant in a love triangle? I always thought she’d been kidnapped. And who else had forgotten the Brenda + Dylan + Kelly 90210 saga?

More recently, I’ll admit that I’ve been obsessed with the Elena + Stefan + Damon love triangle stretched taught and dynamic in the Vampire Diaries. Adding complexity, spice, and occasionally a little double-crossing doppelganger confusion to the mix is the love rectangle-completing Katherine. It doesn’t hurt that all three (four) of them are impossibly attractive—I couldn’t tell you which one I’d prefer Elena to end up with.

Which reminds me of Van Schilt’s analysis of one of the best love triangles I’ve seen in a while: that which played out between The Hunger Games’ Katniss, Peeta, and Gale.

‘Reading The Hunger Games,’ she writes, ‘I’m not sure I had a “team”.’ That’s exactly how I felt! Unlike Twilight, where I was Team Edward all the way, wavering only slightly and briefly when I saw Taylor Lautner’s abs in the film adaptations, I spent the entire The Hunger Games trilogy flip flopping my allegiances about.

Van Schilt attributes a fair chunk of that to the fact that Katniss is such an independent, compelling character:

The combination of her hardened nature and empathetic awareness means that rather than let emotions rule, she still questions loyalties that others often take for granted, which sees her politics, rather than this love triangle, propel her.

The Hunger GamesWell said and makes total sense now that someone else points it out for me. Or maybe I should have worked that out myself. Hmm.

Like a good feminist character not contained within Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey, Katniss can function with or without the doting of boys: ‘Gale is the alpha, and Peeta the beta male,’ Van Schilt writes. ‘They play the hunter and gatherer respectively, while Katniss is a combination of both, making the intrigue in this love triangle. Without giving away the ending, I will say this: refreshingly, throughout The Hunger Games, I didn’t believe the odds were in either’s favour.’

If you haven’t read KYD before, I’d highly recommend you do. Oh, and if you think of more awesome love triangles, I’d love to hear about them. They’ve got me puzzling. Is three the perfect balance? Two’s not enough, four’s too many, but three’s the charm? I mean, when there’s two (as in Romeo and Juliet), they tend to end in tragedy …

A chaste book with the naughty bits avoided or omitted …

Fifty Shades of GreyI’m pretty much standing alone among writers in saying that the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon is a good thing. The general stance is that it’s poorly written commercial drivel leading the reading (and non-reading) masses astray. Me? I think the issues and opportunities are—please excuse the pun—a little more grey.

First and foremost, there’s an element of ‘why her and not me?’ in some writers’ chagrin. Nobody likes a whinger. It’s admittedly got to bite a bit when E.L. James’ writing’s so guffaw-inducing bad (my friend and fellow editor Judi makes me giggle regularly by quoting the bit about Ana’s very own ‘Christian-flavoured popsicle’). It’s got to bite a bit more when you’ve been slaving away for years at your own writing with limited success.

But it ignores the fact that there’s a lot going for Fifty Shades, not least that its success has opened others’ doors. I’ve personally been offered a number of chances to review ‘the next’ Fifty Shades book and to interview its author. Ergo, opportunities for me and opportunities for erotic fiction authors who, it should be noted, were until recently low on the (little-discussed) writing hierarchy—they’re like romance writers but considered more snicker-worthy.

Surely those writers should be grateful that James’ trilogy has ratcheted up the chance of erotic fiction writers for obtaining publishing contracts and has driven eyes and sales to the genre? And beyond the genre, for that matter—James’ own husband has scored a book deal for his crime thriller (I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t considered trying to find and marry an up-and-coming writer who might be able to piggyback me across the bestselling line).

Mr James’ book is apparently in no way connected to Fifty Shades, but who are we kidding? Everyone’s going to be scouring the pages for hints of his and Mrs James’ sex life (and if I were him I wouldn’t care—a book sale’s a book sale and he might even gain some readers who otherwise didn’t know they enjoyed thrillers).

The Da Vinci CodeBecause for all the ‘it’s so badly written’ grumbling, Fifty Shades has done for erotica what Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight and JK Rowling’s Harry Potter have done for their respective genres before—they’ve got people reading and they’ve got people talking about reading.

Whether readers and critics realise it or not (and it’s the ‘or not’ that’s arguably key in the same way that parents try to ensure that kids don’t realise they’re eating green vegies), Fifty Shades has got everyone analysing the work. And then it’s set them off in search of more (hopefully better) reading material to fill the obsessive, book-devouring void.

It’s also provided a much-needed cash injection into a flailing publishing industry, inspired people to buy ebooks so as not to give their dirty reading secret away courtesy of a visible physical book cover, and lobbed previously published and soon-to-be published erotica to the fore. As far as I’m concerned, it’s win–win.

The ‘what about me?’ criticisms also dismiss the fact that Fifty Shades taps into an epic love story. Badly written as it is (as was Twilight before it), there’s something utterly irresistible about it. Self-respecting feminist I may be, even I got caught up in the fairytale-like element of a wealthy, gorgeous, troubled-but-not-without-redemption knight in shining armour sweeping her off her feet (please spare me the hate mail about how the book sets us back centuries—I know it’s imperfect).

Something else has intrigued more than all the ‘it’s rubbish’ furore, both because it’s something I was vaguely thinking about and because it was articulated much better by an author I’m not sure I am a fan of. Jodi Picoult (AKA a reasonably divisive and commercially driven, commercially successful author herself) said that James is unfairly profiting from another author’s tale and characters.

TwilightPicoult kind of has a point, although truthfully, I’m not sure where I stand on the issue. Fifty Shades was explicitly created as Twilight fan fiction, ergo it seems to be fine to use the characters. But fan fiction as a whole is collaborative and something from which people don’t often profit—James’ breakout success is blurring and redefining this, potentially towards a less-open, more-greedy dynamic.

It’s tricky to know where Meyer stands on this issue too. Yes, they’re her characters, but one could convincingly argue that they’re not uniquely hers at all—they’re poorly wrought versions derived from archetypes. What is known is that she’s stayed fairly quiet on the whole issue.

On a pragmatic level, given her devout Mormon faith it’s unlikely (read: about as likely as you or me finding a real-life Christian Grey to call our own) that she’d have written a Fifty Shades or equivalent herself. In fact, you could say Fifty Shades emerged precisely because Meyer didn’t and wouldn’t give us the highly anticipated sex.

What I want to know is whether Meyer has read Fifty Shades. Because that’s the amusing part, isn’t it? A chaste book with the naughty bits avoided, omitted, or only committed in line with strict religious beliefs (AKA sex only after marriage) inspires a best-selling book that’s decidedly unchaste and that breaks all the religious rules …

Nothing Says Hooray Like Harry Potter

Harry PotterNothing says ‘hooray for getting in a draft of a really difficult project and giving yourself a couple of hours off from deadlines as far as the eye can see’ as going to see the breathlessly anticipated Harry Potter finale.

This is precisely the moment I need to issue an apology to those people—who read this blog and who will currently be cursing me via their screens—whom I’d promised I’d wait to see it with. I didn’t do it deliberately, honest.

I know you don’t accidentally fall into a movie theatre so ‘I didn’t do it deliberately’ might be stretching the truth. I was just so fatigued after submitting the millionth draft of a particularly long-running, particularly detailed project, and so dreading the next two that will kick off and be due tomorrow alone that I realised I had the choice between succumbing to a massive migraine or doing something to distract my brain for just under three hours.

Unsurprisingly I chose the latter.

Sorry guys. You should maybe stop reading here lest I spoil the film for you. For what it’s worth: I’m happy to go again. And I should probably shout you your tickets in a gesture of I’mreallysorryitwon’thappenagain goodwill.

So my verdict on the film of the doorstop of the final book that I raced through and yet never wanted to end? It was everything I could have hoped for. It was, in short, absolutely epic.

I say that, though, as someone who hasn’t read the book since it came out. I was caught by surprise at the beginning of the penultimate film. I was like: WTF?! Dumbledore is dead?!

I then realised both that I’d missed a film (and writing this I’ve realised that I still haven’t seen it) and that my memory was a little sketchy. Then I settled in to enjoy the film as if I were encountering everything for the first time.

Ditto for my experience tonight, although I was less WTF?! Dumbledore is dead?! and more how many of those horcrux thingys are there left? And what are they hidden in anyway?

Sounds dumb, I know, but it was actually brilliant. It meant that I was as in awe of the film as I was when I read the book, and I chuckled inwardly (and occasionally outwardly) at JK Rowling’s ability to insert plot twists none of us could ever predict. Especially those that explain or refer to key moments or mysteries carefully laid out, breadcrumb-style, in previous books.

It must be said that I was also in awe of the film’s scriptwriter, director, and cinematographer, who plucked out the book’s core and brought it to life with a light touch. It would have been easy to make this, the ultimate film, Sop Central. Instead, it was dark when it needed to be, but better still, heroic, heart-warming, fast-paced, and funny.

I actually had goosebumps when Professor McGonagall stepped up to defend Harry and then Hogwarts. Likewise when the statues came to life and marched down to guard the borders. And yes, I’ll admit I cried a bit too. Although not, it should be noted, as much as I thought I would.

The gaping ‘what now’ feeling I have now that’s identical to the one I had after finishing the Twilight and Vampire Academy series has one upside: with those two there either weren’t films or weren’t a complete set of films to revisit. The only thing left for me to do is to re-read the books I’ve clearly (see previous paras re: WTF?! Dumbledore is dead?!) forgotten.

There’s No Book Like Vampire Academy

ShiverMy Dorothy-style there’s-no-book-like-Vampire-Academy moan hasn’t stopped since the last few times I’ve mentioned it on this blog. I don’t own red shoes and clicking my heels together to conjure up either more, as-yet-unpublished books in the series or books equal to the task of filling the series’ big, now-empty shoes hasn’t worked.

My friend Kate tried to assuage my sadness (and quite possibly stopper my whinging) by recommending a book she’s found to be pretty good.

Called Shiver and penned by American writer Maggie Stiefvater, it’s a young adult novel about a girl who’s in love with a boy who’s half-human and half-wolf. Grace, the female lead doesn’t initially know the wolf and the boy are the same, of course, and the two watch each other from a distance for a long, long time.

The problem is that cold weather turns human Sam, the male lead, into a wolf and the couple live in a rather chilly, snowfall-is-just-around-the-corner place. Once Grace discovers that Sam and the wolf are one and the same, they become romantically involved and then embroiled in super-human efforts to keep him warm and in human form.

There are further complications with the wolf aspect—and this is where, in my so-very-shallow knowledge of the conventions of young-adult fiction, I think this book offers something unique.

LingerThe complications include that there comes a time when the humans permanently morph into wolf form. That means that Grace and Sam’s recently found true love (and yes, you’re allowed to channel The Princess Bride here) is about to be permanently torn apart.

Also playing out in the background are the storylines that Grace was once been attacked by these wolves, and a newly formed and unstable wolf is causing chaos about town.

As much as I wanted it to be, and as much as I found the cover art very pretty, this book was no Vampire Academy for me. But that’s also an impossibly high and unfair benchmark by which to judge it.

On its own, Shiver is a good book and one that I enjoyed enough to read in a few sittings and for which I sacrificed the hallowed sport of sleep. To continue the Dorothy theme, I should recognise and get over the fact that I’m not in Kansas anymore.

The exchanges between characters were sassy and clever and, although I didn’t think Sam was quite in the realms of Edward (the brooding, vampire love interest from Twilight) or Dimitri (the brooding, kickass vampire love interest from Vampire Academy who kicks even Edward’s ass), I thought he was very sweet.

Shiver also thankfully lacked some of the annoying moral overtones Twilight, in particular, reeked of, or the drawn-out-ness of the will-we-won’t-we love story. Sam and Grace get together, stay together, and there’s no annoying forlorn looks or I’m-a-danger-to-you-so-it’s-best-that-I-leave-you mucking about.

Getting to the final page, I discovered that Grace and Sam’s tale continues, branching out with another one-word-entitled book called Linger. Shiver might not have rocked my world as much as Vampire Academy, but I liked it enough to warrant continuing onto book two. Who knows, maybe the series will grow further on me. Maybe I’ll come to like Sam as much as Dimitri.

I Wish I’d Never Discovered This Series (AKA Happy 100th Book Burglar Blog)

Vampire Academy‘I wish I’d never discovered this series of books’ is not the phrase with which I expected to open my 100th blog. Yes, 100th. I can scarcely believe it either. Where has all the time (and typing) gone?! Anyway, that’s the opening I’m going with, because I’ve discovered the all-consuming, sleep-depriving, social-event-cancel-worthy young adult fiction Vampire Academy series.

Please, don’t roll your eyes or click away. I was like that too until I cracked the spine of the first book (handily also called Vampire Academy, with the subsequent books taking different titles and having ‘a Vampire Academy novel’ as the subtitle). I figured that vampires had kind of been done to death (no pun intended) and, Twilight excepted, am also not overly interested in them. Some of you would say that, Twilight included, you’re not overly interested in them.

Sure, Stephenie Meyers’ series isn’t going to win any ‘best writing’ awards (unless you count some sort of dubious, razzy-style ones that pillory cliché-laden, guffaw-worthy clunkers), but there’s something incredibly compelling and addictive about the books.

I will actually admit that I didn’t think I’d find a vampire-themed series that I enjoyed as much as them. Then my friend Nat gifted me the first book in Richelle Mead’s series. I’ll even admit that that first book sat on my bookshelf for nigh on six months until a week ago when, following on my from I-need-a-break-from-human-trafficking-books blog, I plucked it from the pile of 50-ish to-be-read books. And I haven’t slept or stopped read since.

FrostbiteOh. My. Goodness. Vampire Academy is kind of what Twilight would be if a talented writer composed them (or a good editor whipped out the clichés and clunkers that make us chortle). The Vampire Academy series diverges from the traditional vampires v humans storyline and focuses instead on three types of vampires: Moroi, who are magic-wielding, royal vampires who live off humans who willing give up their blood in exchange for the endorphins a vampire bite offers; Dhampirs, who are half vampire, half human, and whose job it is to protect the Moroi; and Strigoi, the bad-guy, un-dead vampires who are created through all manner of evil means and who think nothing of killing Moroi, Dhampirs, or humans.

The books’ protagonist is Dhampir Rosemarie Hathaway, who’s training to be a guardian for her best friend and Moroi princess, Lissa. They share a psychic bond (of course) and a nose for trouble, with the two ending up in various challenging situations—some of their own making, some of the bad guys’ who are after them.

Which is where spunk and Strigoi-slaying guardian-god Dimitri enters the fray, tasked with bringing Rose up to speed on her training and, in the process, into line. He’s an Edward-like character, but much less wooden and much more three-dimensional. He’s also a fair bit older and is technically Rose’s teacher, which complicates things, and Mead propels him, Rose, Lissa, and their cast of friends through some tightly-woven, well-executed plot twists. Oh, and did I mention that the books are refreshingly full of sassy one-liners (seriously, I wish I could come up with those) and don’t come over all, well, moral and subtly (some would argue unsubtly) Mormon?

Shadow KissI’m not normally a YA reader, nor a vampire-fiction one and consider myself no expert in this area. I will also concede that I’ve been so embarrassed at the veritably juvenile nature of the covers and titles that I’ve nearly done myself an injury trying to read them while concealing the cover from others’ eyes on public transport (Where’s an adult Harry Potter cover when you need one?).

Still, this series has been so extraordinary I not only haven’t slept, I’ve bought every single book in the series and am obsessively working my way through them at the rate of about one book every two days. This is wreaking havoc with my ability to sleep and function normally—if I owe you an email, I’m sorry, but you won’t be seeing one until I’ve made it all the way through. I also apologise to those of you who saw me sitting reading in my car until the last possible minute instead of coming in to socialise before playing netball—I can loan you the books after I’ve finished them if you’d like and then you’ll understand.

So, happy 100th blog (and thanks a bunch for reading all this time). I’m hopping back offline to finish the series and suspect I’ll only return once I’m mourning having done so. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that’ll be the not-so-happy theme of my 101st blog…

Not For Sale (But For Loan)

Not For SaleThe other day both my friend and my father voiced what I had myself been feeling—that although they loved the current crop of books I’ve been distributing to them as must-reads, that they might need to inject a few slightly trashier ones for some light relief. Phew. Me too.

I’d encountered a bumper crop of books, including Into The Woods (which I’ve already blogged about), Silent Spring (which I will blog about), and revisited the brilliant (if logic-defying) Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (which I’ll also blog about soon), but was feeling pretty disillusioned with and weighed down by social and environmental problems. And specifically gobsmacked and frustrated that we humans are the initial and ongoing root of all this evil.

While on one level I am empowered and invigorated and inspired to enact change after reading these kinds of books, on almost every other level I feel like sitting in a corner, wallowing, and wishing it would all go away. So why, out of the 50-ish books I have sitting waiting to be read (see previous blog and feel free to send some pointers my way), I finally picked out David Batstone’s Not For Sale, I’ll never know.

Confessions of an Economic Hit ManIt’s a book about abolishing human trafficking. As in slavery. As in the horror happens in developing nations but also, more frighteningly, right here, right now, in our backyard. I can feel the friends I plan to pass the book on to wince already. What happened to me finding them some cotton-candy airport fiction, right?

The good news is that the topic sounds (and is) heavy, Batstone covers it with a light touch. He threads stats with real-life examples, short chapters, and segments of case studies. You’re introduced to a person at the beginning of the chapter and then return to them at its close to find out how their story ended up.

I’m now equal parts fascinated and disturbed how the parts of the world where people (often women or children) who are trafficked (often for sex crimes) changes a little like fashion does—wars, famines, poor financial prospects, a lack of international pressure or sanctions, or governments looking the other way, all play a part in determining who’s trafficked from and to where.

Into The WoodsThe book covers the stories of women and children forced into sexual slavery in Thailand or Uganda or [insert name of just about any nation here] through poverty or the promise of education for their children or through nightmarish village razing and abduction.

I now understand how people get there and stay/are kept there. I also now understand how it’s a very profitable industry—globalisation at its worst—because Batstone unpacks what’s an entirely complex and murkily moralled issue in a straightforward, commonsense manner.

While the awfulness of the violence and rape perpetrated against women and children really did make me wince, I both winced more knowing that slavery goes on in first-world nations (seriously, in suburban USA and probably in suburban Australia) and that I should be doing more to stop it.

I’m making it sound bleak, though, which it’s really not. Especially as Batstone features the people who, often through random encounters or split-second decisions, have found themselves dedicating their lives to stamping human trafficking out.

I know I’m going to have a hard time selling Not For Sale to my friends as family right now as they all need a less complex carbohydrate non-fiction call to action, more mindlessly consumable simple carbohydrate Twilight-style tale, but I am still going to try. If not now, then at some stage, Not For Sale should be on the list of books I loan out.

Mark My Words: The E-Book Will Never Be Victorious!

It seems like everyone is talking about Amazon’s recent emission that e-books have surpassed the sale of hardcover books. Our fellow blogger, Joel Blacklock, has been writing some fabulous articles on the whole phenomenon. Til now I have attempted to stay out of this debate, but I feel that the time – to step forward and offer my own two cents on the matter – has come.

Let me get one thing straight first – I don’t want e-books to fail. They represent an important movement in reading books that I embrace wholeheartedly – anything that purports to make reading easier and more accessible has a two-thumbs-up from me! So they’re preaching to the converted! But they’re also preaching to the wrong type of audience. Sure, there will be readers who enjoy being ‘up’ on the latest technology and so will be the first in the lineup for the latest Kindle or Sony e-book-related product. But unlike the fact that pretty much everyone likes to listen to music (the iPod) or talk to others (the iPhone), it’s a sad truth that not everyone likes to read books.

Reading’ll probably always be considered the archaic art that has the characteristic of the mythical phoenix, seemingly dead but rising from the ashes with renewed vigour with every passing generation.

Rather than it being an either/or scenario, I feel like e-books will become part of the book industry, and some readers will find it most convenient to gravitate towards this medium. I am sure the e-book will experience significant growth for consumers, but it ain’t gonna happen for a while yet. Society is experiencing nostalgia as well as progress – it’s why things like Harry Potter (based in an era where magic rules and the computer is exchanged for spell scrolls) and Twilight (based on the supernatural goings-on in the small town Forks where I bet they only just got wireless broadband) have succeeded for the Y Generation. Fantasy is never really about the present – magic concerns the past long-gone, Sci Fi is about the future, and dystopian fiction is an undesirable view of the future. We may be the generation that enjoys progress, but I like to believe we’re all for freedom of expression, and don’t want to be confined to one type of reading outlet. If companies continue to push, push, push this commercial enterprise it’ll just cheapen reading to the point where no one’ll bother – some of the wonderful things about books is the ability to ‘covet’ certain exxy paper editions; ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over gorgeous covers; and yeah, romanticise over the musty/ freshly-pressed ‘smell of books’.

And I’m pretty sure the world is still full of rebel romantics.

The Severus Snape Guide to Literature’s Bad Boys

You know, he may not be much of a looker, but I had a mad crush on Severus Snape throughout the entire Harry Potter series. He was quite possibly the drawcard for me to keep reading all 7 books … it wasn’t that I didn’t like the series, I just didn’t love-them-so-much-I-will-dress-like-a-wizard-at-the-midnight-release-and-name-my-firstborn-Voldemort.

But Severus, oh Severus. I shall wait with baited breath for the end of the year when the first part of the final story is released at the cinemas, and I will cry my poor little heart out at that bit (do not click if you’re one of the three people left who hasn’t read the series and you don’t like spoilers). Turns out I’m not the only one. There are a number of sites dedicated to the character of Snape and this isn’t where the obsession for the bad-guy-who-is-really-a-good-guy ends.

In real life, I do not find myself much attracted to the tattooed bikers of the world or the James Dean rebels-without-a-cause (I’m sure some are very nice, I’m just swaying with stereotypes here). I tend instead, to gravitate towards the business suits and the crew cuts. I never had the pleasure of blessing my parents during my teenage years with a cigarette-swilling boy who looked like he could ruin my future with one well-timed wink. But when it comes to reel life, and literature in particular, I just can’t help myself.

It is funny, thinking about how universal this idea of a ‘bad boy’ is. Twilight is said to have started the trend for a possessive romance, but this is really nothing new. No one could doubt that gothic legend Heathcliff loved Cathy to death. And in comparison to the old Byronic men, Bella’s Edward isn’t even that bad. The idea has been around for donkey’s years – probably since the princess fell in love with the dragon rather than the heroic prince, all because the dragon offered her a very beautiful necklace (albeit a very beautiful stolen necklace), from his hoard of treasure.

Adele Walsh does a wonderful post on the bad poster boys of YA literature; but beyond YA, there’s a smorgasbord of fiction (including the classics) which still holds to the famous adage: “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven”…

Interview with Charlotte McConaghy (Part 2)

One thing I love about Charlotte, writer of the Strangers of Paragor series, is that she doesn’t shy away from being totally girly and romantic. Book 2 of the series was released just last month, I was fortunate enough to read it, and I came away dreaming about faraway lands and dashing princes. But for the boys (and the more violent-natured femmes among us) there’s a stack of adventure and some rather bloodlusty scenes as well…

Charlotte, in Descent, the six Strangers are reunited. Why did you decide to reunite them in Book 2 of the Strangers of Paragor, halfway through, rather than at the end (Book 3) or at the very beginning (Book 1)?

For starters, I didn’t want too many characters in the first book, otherwise it becomes hard for the reader to keep track of them – there’s already quite a few! And by bringing Jack and Mia into the second book, it still gives us characters we can relate to without feeling like everyone has just settled in and knows what’s going on. They couldn’t come in too late though, because then they wouldn’t be properly involved in the bigger story-line that runs through books 2, 3 and 4.

What can readers expect from the all-important book 3? Any spoilers you can give us?

Think: Angels!! Books 3 and 4 are going to have a much bigger focus on the archangels, and the Strangers’ connection to them. A big spoiler…. One of the main characters is actually going to become an angel! The books are also very relationship-py, because by that stage everyone has become totally embroiled in each other’s dramas – lots of ‘will they get together or won’t they?’ ‘who will end up with who?’ and ‘who is going to get married?’

Hooray for angels! *clearly loves angels* Do you believe angels are the new vampires? Why/why not?

Yeah, I think we can move into the angel phase – it’s the same concept – an immortal/inhuman creature with human-like features and emotions is hot. Simple as that. Creatures that can do cool stuff (like flying or being super strong) are just more fun to read about. And people are going to get sick of vampires eventually. Pretty soon there will be something else altogether – after angels my prediction is faeries. I’m loving the Wicked Lovely series by Melissa Marr about dark and violent faeries who feed off dark emotion – very creepy, very cool.

I seriously need to read some Melissa Marr. If she’s anything like Holly Black, I am so in. What books are on your bedside table?

I just finished Spirit Bound by Richelle Mead which was cool. I love heroines who can kick butt. I reread all of Guy Gavriel Kay’s stuff whenever I can’t find anything else to read (he’s an adult fantasy writer). I looooove The Time Traveler’s Wife – most romantic book in the world.

Oh I know. I don’t think the movie did it justice, even though Eric Bana was pretty attractive as Henry! What about your favourite fantasy movie, and why:

I love ‘Hero’, ‘House of Flying Daggers’ and all those gorgeous Asian cinema films because they’re so beautiful and romantic and full of courage and passion and betrayal. I love Tristan and Isolde for its romance. Lord of the Rings, of course. More recently: Avatar, no matter what people say about it. And I love 300 because I’m really into Greek history and mythology.

Like I said last piece, it’s like you stole my movie brain. THIS IS SPARTA!!….
Funny you didn’t talk about the Twilight movies based on the books by Stephenie Meyer, especially with Eclipse blowing the box office to bits lately. A little birdy told me you’re addicted to the Twilight series …what do you think makes them so popular? Should they be elevated to ‘classic’ status?

Actually I’m not that fussed about them – I enjoyed them when I read them, but wouldn’t say I’m addicted. She’s done awesomely for herself though – good on her! However I definitely don’t think they should be classics – there’s heaps of other teen lit that’s just as good, if not better.

***

Again, Charlotte, agreed. Stay tuned for the final interview post with Miss McConaghy – apparently she’s sick of working retail!

Book To Film To Book

EclipseDebates rage about whether film adaptations of books ever cut the mustard (most people argue no), but perhaps the less-acknowledged, less-celebrated upside to any silver-screen translation is that it sends us rushing back to the book.

I’m going to fess up upfront that I was one of those dedicated fans who turned out for the midnight release of the film version of Eclipse, the third book in Stephenie Meyer’s runaway bestselling quadrilogy. And I’m going to admit that I was more than a little excited about it. Had I had time in the preceding days, I would have both re-watched the first two films and—and here’s the most important bit—re-read the first three books. Sadly, my clients and their deadlines weren’t quite so understanding, so instead I turned up to the cinema cold.

It’s been a while since I’ve read the books (I read them twice—but even the second time was a while ago now), and my memory was a little hazy. I knew that Eclipse was my favourite of the three, that it involved Victoria creating an army of newborns to chop suey Bella, and that within its pages the Edward-Bella-Jacob love-triangle really hit its straps. But could I recall specific lines of dialogue or guffaw-worthy paragraphs of clunky prose that somehow didn’t put me off reading it? No.

The joy I felt effectively rediscovering the book through the film on Wednesday night was nothing short of immense. Yes, I spent half the film admiring Taylor Lautner’s upper body (although, for the record, I think he’s less buff in this latest instalment than he was in New Moon). Yes, I laughed out loud at the girly run he does when picks up Bella to carry her across the field in a test to mask her scent with his own wolf one. I laughed even louder at the tongue-in-cheek ‘Doesn’t he own a shirt’ and ‘We both know I’m hotter’ lines that we know the actors would have had trouble delivering with a straight face.

But I also spent half the film comparing and marvelling and making mental notes to—yep—go back and check how the condensed film handled the story arcs and key scenes compared with the lengthier book. And I was unashamedly euphoric as I left the cinema at 2am and was determined to go home and stay up reading Eclipse again—that would invariably have led me to re-read Breaking Dawn too because you can’t leave yourself hanging.

The Twilight quadrilogy might not be your series of choice, but the example extends to all other books. A film adaptation either reminds us of, and reignites, our love for previously read books and sends us back to rediscover the minutiae, the scenes, and the excitement that a necessarily-condensed film cannot deliver but may complement. Personally, I’m ok with any film adaptation, because the book to film journey leads us back to the book. If we’re lucky, it might include some spectacular eye candy visuals that we can recall while envisaging the characters during re-reading, such as Lautner’s impeccable abs.

Angels in YA Literature (Part 2) – Closer to Godliness

An article in The Guardian, published April 2010, discusses Philip Pullman as a possible trendsetter for the current onslaught of angels in YA fiction. One of the voices of the article claims that “on the ladder that goes up from the mushroom to God, angels are one rung above us”– angels are seen as superior to vampires because they are superior to humans and thus, are “more fertile ground” for the inspired author and the greedy YA reader.

In the second book of the His Dark Materials trilogy, Pullman introduces a pair of supernatural lovers in the form of homosexual angels, who meet with the tween protagonists in one of the parallel worlds featuring prominently in the trilogy. Whilst the angels are not major characters in the series, their presence is significant not only for the connotations to Milton’s Paradise Lost (Pullman cites the story as one of his major inspirations), but also because their description is a massive departure from previous religion connotations of winged beings. The ‘nouveau angels’ from Pullman’s books in their own unusual manner and description express a need for companionship, and feelings of desire and love – previously human-only traits.

Angels in YA literature, as touched on in Part 1 have become like teen humans, hormones-a-racing and usually with something to prove. It should come as no surprise then, that teen protagonists in these supernatural novels are now being written by their contemporaries – teens themselves.

On the homefront, Alexandra Adornetto, at the tender age of 17 has three books to her name from when she signed a publishing deal with publishing giants HarperCollins, and is now embarking on an entirely different journey with Halo, due for release later this year. The twist lies in the way the angels in this book are portrayed – they’re not the tortured, dark supernaturals we’ve come to expect, but rather have their own more ‘heavenly’ reasons for investing themselves in earth’s affairs.

But Alexandra’s not the only teen Aussie on the brink of international angel fiction fame. When I first picked up Charlotte McConaghy’s Arrival (Book 1, Strangers of Paragor) mid-2009, I’ll admit it was total cover lust, and not much else. It was only when I’d finished reading, and completely fallen in love with the characters and the world-building of Paragor, that I discovered the author finished writing the book when she was 16! The heavily-anticipated second book in the series by Miss McConaghy, aptly titled Descent, has been released this month. While angels play a fairly small part in Arrival, there’s the promise of more angel action in the later books, portraying angels as the hero messengers – not so far from its original religious context as one would expect from a teen growing up in the age of Twilight, Hush,Hush and Fallen.

The overwhelming feeling one garners from these books is that new Australian YA angels in fiction don’t fit the Edward Cullen mould. They seem, strangely, to be moving away from the tortured and tragic Byronic teen love interest. With Aussie teens themselves weighing in on the heavenly side of the angel craze, the character of the angel in literature lends itself to a new interpretation – is the craving for angel fiction in YA circles not in fact a generation looking for the new vampire, but rather the evolving natural rebellion of a generation in need of a character closer to God?

Brown paper bags and iPads – disguising less literary moments

I’m not an ardent Apple lover and haven’t blasted through this month’s food money to buy an iPad, but I can see a useful application for it already.

I’m not going to go through the technical ins-and-outs of the iPad reading experience (if you have a hankering for that sort of thing, I suggest popping over to the Smell of Books, where Joel has already covered it nicely) but state one simple fact – reading through an iPad means that you’ll never again have to put up with people judging you by your book’s cover.

While what you enjoy reading should be a personal choice, reading in a public space can be an alarming reminder that not all literature is seen as equal. As with any subjective matter, opinions are divided and occasionally offered in the most insulting possible way.

A friend of mine has given up reading her Twilight books on the train, thanks to pointed glares from non-fans and one person asking her if she was capable of reading a “real book”. Much like the kids who disguise their comics, pulp serials and (ahem) educational adult material in a heavy encyclopaedia while in the school library, she now disguises them with a book sleeve of something more high-brow. Another keeps their taste for corset-busting romances firmly hidden in brown paper covers since a drunken commuter insisted they could be their semi-clothed pirate prince instead of “some poof in a book” and then proceeded to open their shirt and prance around the carraige to demonstrate.

My own habit of reading motivational and pop-psychology books has put me in cringe zone a few times when I have looked up and seen people reactions to my choice of book. These books that are worth a flick, but perhaps not without reading either on an iPad or with a plain brown paper cover.

1. He’s Just Not That Into You

It’s more a comedy than a melodrama of a book, with wonderfully down-to-earth advice but if you decide to read this on public transport you may as well place neon flashing sign over your head. And that sign says: “I have been dumped. Dramatically dumped. I am just one visual reminder (“There’s a car. George used to drive a car.”) or off-hand comment (“He said hello. George used to say hello…”) off breaking down into a torrent of tears while wailing “Why, George, WHY?”

You don’t have to use George. Insert the name of your ex, or if anyone is wearing their work ID, try bawling their name between gut-wrenching sobs just to watch them twitch. If you feel like cranking the Embarrassometer up a notch, you can turn up the next day reading He Just THINKS He’s Just Not That Into You, causing all your co-commuters to call home and check that the bunny hut is safely secured.

2.The Game by Neil Strauss

You may be engrossed by the fascinating world of the PUA’s, or Pick Up Artists, or enjoying Neil Strauss’s honest and irreverent humour but everyone looking at you thinks you are only reading it for cheat tips to the opposite sex. If you are a guy reading this, people assume you a damp-pawed and creepy type who also owns How To Pick Up Girls By Hypnosis* and tries the “there is.. .something… in your eye…” line at parties. If you are a girl reading this people assume you are a damp-pawed and creepy type who also owns How To Pick Up Girls By Hypnosis. Basically, no one is making eye contact or shaking hands with you all the way home.

3. Anything on unarmed combat, knife-fighting or ear-biting. Or How-To guides by the SAS.

On the plus side, no one will take the seat next to you for the whole trip. On the minus, those four burly armed security staff closing in on you are not doing so to offer you a chocolate muffin and a nice cup of tea. As a general tip, most commuters are fine with you reading books about horrifically bloody murders, it’s when you start reading about real-life methods of mayhem and squinting speculatively around the carraige they will decide to call the cops.

Perhaps the release of the iPad and other e-readers is a licence enjoy your guilty or gorey pleasures. Tescos reported sales of downloaded Mills & Boon titles grew 57 per cent in the five months after the Sony Reader went on sale, and with the advent of the iPad, who knows what the person next to you on the bus could be reading? You’ll just have to ask them to show you.

And if it’s How To Pick Up Girls By Hypnosis or anything on knife-fighting, I suggest keeping your eyes on their screen and smiling vaguely the whole way home.


* This book does not exist out of the science fiction series Red Dwarf, so don’t bother looking for it. At least, if it DOES exist, Boomerang Books thankfully don’t stock it.

I suggest keeping your

Angels in YA Literature (Part 1)

In continuing with my angel and devil-themed posts, I wanted to take a closer look at Young Adult literature, which has recently heralded a host of books on dark or “fallen” angels, in particular.

These are no mere cherubs – they’re winged beings with a dangerous edge. The male lead in current YA angel novels still tend to be Edward Cullen-esque, with their possessiveness and their secretive nature, but lately, things have been getting a wee bit darker.

Hush Hush, by Becca Fitzpatrick (released 2009) has Patch, a fallen angel who is Bad News. Yet Nora Grey, our requisite damsel-in-distress protagonist, can’t stay away from him. When this book was first released, bloggers were split clean down the middle. On one side, YA romantics loved the forbidden love and compared the book favourably to Twilight, calling it “thrilling” and “seductive”. On the other side were YA bloggers who were disturbed by the physical interaction between Patch and Nora, considering Patch’s actions to be less seductive and more ‘abusive’. What example is it setting for young adults, to have a protagonist drawn to a bad boy who slams her against a bench, when she has a sinking feeling that he wants to kill her and yet still yearns to trust him?
I’ve read the book, and find myself somewhere in the middle: yes, there are a couple of questionable scenes in the novel, but I figure most girls are smart enough to draw a crooked (okay, sometimes very crooked) line between fantasy and reality, and can enjoy Hush, Hush for what it is: a forbidden romance between a paranormal guy and a human girl, testing the boundaries of hormonal attraction.

I must say, though, I prefer the idea behind Lauren Kate’s Fallen, released just after Hush, Hush. In Fallen, Lucinda falls in love with Daniel, a guy at her new school. Life gets a little more difficult for Lucinda after she finds out Daniel is actually a fallen angel, and that they’ve had a history (ie. many previous lives) where they’ve fallen in love and lost each other each time, thanks to good and evil forces trying to keep them apart. What I like about this scenario is that Lucinda isn’t a passive character – she has responsibility from the experience of her previous lives, and she plays a more active role in attempting to combat fate and the forces, rather than be prone to them. There’re some nice mythology references as well.

Having a dark and tortured celestial being for a boyfriend is a pretty seductive scenario to me – no wonder these kinds of books are so popular. But what I’m really looking forward to is the YA novel where the FEMALE is the fallen angel and the male is the human – would put quite a spin on things, no?

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Angels in YA Literature, which focuses on angels existing in a world populated with other sorts of paranormal beings.

Angels in Literature: Who Dares Disturb Their Slumber?

I noticed recently that Boomerang Books had twittered about a book trailer for The Gargoyle, by Andrew Davidson. Released back in 2008, I read the book as soon as I could get my hands on it because the blurb just sounded so damn good:

The nameless narrator of The Gargoyle is driving along a dark road when he is distracted by what seems to be a flight of arrows. He crashes into a ravine and wakes up in a burns ward, undergoing the tortures of the damned. His life is over – he is now a monster. One day, Marianne Engel, a wild and compelling sculptress of gargoyles, enters his life and tells him that they were once lovers in medieval Germany. As she spins her tale, Scheherazade fashion, and relates equally mesmerising stories of deathless love in Japan, Greenland, Italy and England, he finds himself drawn back to life – and, finally, to love.

This strange debut offering – which had such a high-falutin’ storyline – turned out to be compulsively readable. From the first sentence the book leapt free of the Gothic Classic narrative I’d been banking on, and was testing its wings in an entirely more modern context. And it may have been more of a shock, because the narrator wasn’t some damsel-in-distress wooed by a chance at love, it was a Hollywood heartthrob with a face of ash, being wooed by an excaped patient from the psychiatric ward next door. So yeah, romance can happen in all places, to all types of people. And this message gave The Gargoyle its ability to enter massmarket fiction for adults. Indeed, it was the first time since the 90s (when angels were popular for the ‘Hard Rock Goths’), that I sensed the concept of a winged being had embarked on a dark road: one to commercial success (excess).

Gargoyles; vampires; angels; demons; concepts of heaven and hell, have all experienced a resurgence in literature. Gothic is all the rage right now, for some reason. You could perhaps, credit Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Gothic poem Christabel (one of me faves) as the stirring of vampires in the 1800s. From there, friend and contemporary Mary Shelley produced Frankenstein, Sheridan Le Fanu was inspired to write a cracking novella titled ‘Carmilla’, and this in turn is said to have partly influenced a book you may know: Dracula, by Bram Stoker.

While Twilight may have awoken the sleeping dead for teenagers and starry-eyed 20- and 30-something women, word around the book blog traps has been that angels, riding on the coattails of the humanised vampire, are ready for a descent themselves. Not only a descent into the world of teens, mind you, but with a plan for fantasy fiction world takeover (including all its subgenre cities).

I don’t know just yet if angels are indeed the new vampires, but the whole religious idea and how it has been translated into popular culture definitely deserves some further investigation. Why are they popular again? How do they differ from their original concept? Religious connotations of heaven and hell, as alluded to in The Gargoyle, also requires some exploration.

Grab a shovel, and get ready to do some digging. Stay tuned for future angelic/demonic posts – it’s a heaven/hell extravaganza!

For the Love of the Chunkster

Dear Readers:

I have a confession to make. It is a confession that is so monstrous, so remarkably horrid, that your view of me will forever be marred.

*Takes deep breath*

I have never read The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

[I know what you’re thinking: “and here she is, this imposter, purporting to be a FANTASY blogger, no less!”]

Before you pass too hasty a judgment, let it be known that I have watched the Peter Jackson movies and loved them to bits, over and over again. And I read The Hobbit, so really, I feel like I know Bilbo Baggins PRETTY well. It’s not the same, I know. But it’s a start.

On three separate attempts I have made it, at best, about halfway through The Fellowship of the Ring. My excuse for not finishing it? It was TOO DARNED LONG. Too much valuable reading time had to be spent on the series, whereas I could read 15 or so smaller books in the same time bracket! But in my heart of hearts, I know this is a lie.
In truth, if you look at which books I love and have enjoyed the most, refusing to read a book because it is “too long” is laughable. For my very reading existence is almost completely dependent on my love for a particular type of book: for the love of the CHUNKSTER!

I define a chunkster as a book that has at least 500-600 pages, average size font.

Why do I love them? Well, there is something deliciously satisfying about reading a book that gives me the proper amount of time to immerse myself in the story, wallow about in its glorious filth. To know the characters through an intense description of a frock worn, to know a world as it is built, brick by brick around me. And, of course, I feel pretty awesome when I finish something that requires so much time and effort to get through.

Some of my fave chunksters:

Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett is a magnificent choice in the chunkster realm. To understand the passion and architectural skill of building a Gothic cathedral, while all these people’s lives are carrying on around it, is just mesmerising to me. After reading that book, I felt like I had built the church myself – ’tis a great feeling of accomplishment;
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke, is 1000 pages or so of mind-numbing faerie Victoriana brilliance;
Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell, sends me into a spin just thinking about it;
And I have just read Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, and been absolutely blown away by its intricate content, its romantic Sci Fi, its literary awesomeness. No wonder it won the Booker Prize.

I am also super pleased to report that the fashion of the chunkster doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere fast. The obsession with mass fantasy reads like Harry Potter and Twilight meant that each book in the series had to be larger than the last, to satisfy the starving fans. And you only have to look at 2009’s Booker shortlist to see that chunksters are still considered worthy literary reads (I’m currently digging my way through Wolf Hall with mounting enthusiasm). So, to come full circle – I don’t know why I can’t get through Lord of the Rings. I’m going to try again, mid-year, and let you know the results. As long as another chunkster doesn’t steal my attention… (here’s hoping!)

How do you feel about chunksters? To me, you’re in one of two camps: you adore the chunkster and all that it stands for, or you fear them to the depths of your soul and avoid them like the plague.

Which is it for you? Team Love? Or Team Fear?

We Can Eat Too Much Sugar

The Girl With The Dragon TattooCall it airport fiction, call it mass market fiction, or call it trash, the reading equivalent of quick-fix, craving-inducing simple carbohydrates are something we all secretly or not-so-secretly love. You know the ones. The Dan Brown bestsellers and the books that need not be named by the Mormon mom turned author that have tweens and adults alike aflutter.

But before you pooh pooh such ‘lowbrow’ reading matter that’s the literary likeness of riding the sugar high, please consider that, as with simple carbohydrates, which have been blamed for all manner of societal and waist-measurement evils, such reading matter not only has its place in our reading diet, it can do us some good.

We can eat too much sugar, but we can never consume too many books. Any reading is good reading, be it reading the sides of cereal boxes, determining epic fails on signs (those are a whole other blog in themselves), conquering such tomes as Ulysses, or devouring page-turners such as Twilight and The Da Vinci Code.

Because we all know what happens with simple carbohydrates. We eat them. We eat them fast. They make us high and happy. Then they’re burnt up by our bodies (ok, or stored, but let’s not go there) and leave us hungering for more.

It’s the hungering for more is where the door opens for us to consume some more substantial books and to continue to expand our reading tastes. Seriously. Why do we always make each other feel as though our reading habits must be something like a cross between eating only wholemeal and raw health foods (which are fine, but never as tasty) and taking medicine?

Hands up who did further research into the Illuminati and Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper off the back of Dan Brown’s breakout bestseller? Hands up who ventured into unfamiliar reading territory to explore vampires and werewolves courtesy of Twilight? And hands up who is, like me, now firmly entrenched in Team Edward, although almost willing to have a foot in both camps based purely on the extraordinariness of Taylor Lautner’s abdominal muscles that were flexed at every available opportunity in the film adaptation of New Moon?

We’ve all been on crazy, carbohydrate-free diets and we know that they make us unhappy. We also know they end in a massive carbohydrate binge. The question is why we can’t use carbohydrates as part of—or a door to opening ourselves up to—a balanced literary diet? Because here’s the thing. I finally read the first book in the mass market series that has arguably stepped up to fill the post-Brown, post-Meyer void: Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

I found it less than ordinary. And that’s actually a good thing.

The book (and indeed the Millennium trilogy) has been a runaway bestseller, with relative non-readers around the world picking it up, enjoying it, and recommending it to others. The funny thing is, the book is slow. Interminably slow. I’m a voracious reader and I struggled with the first 300-odd pages of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I mean, sheesh, for a journalist who would have spent his life abiding by the inverted pyramid—or the rule that all the important information must be up front to draw readers in—Larsson completely inverted the inverted pyramid.

I think I could have skipped the first half of the book and been no worse off for it. I skimmed half the details about the Vanger family, which Larsson made far too large, with the various members blurring into similarity meh-ness. And the Lisbeth Salander character, the girl who sports the title’s tattoo, was unnecessarily (and boringly) difficult (I actually groaned when she stormed off for being complimented on having a photographic memory, then returned to the house when she was invited back in a pointless, irrelevant scene designed to demonstrate her different-ness). She’s a pale, caricatured character when you compare her with a strong, troubled, but interesting female such as Lucy Farinelli from Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series.

Yet in spite of these flaws, people—and, in my experience, most surprisingly non-readers—are enjoying The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and recommending it to others. Which is an excellent. If they are prepared to read through the 300-odd pages that should have been cut and put up with characters that either don’t enhance the narrative or that simply don’t quite work, they’re prepared to take a step up from simple carbohydrates to some more complex ones.

Indeed, rather than pooh poohing people’s enjoyment of white bread-like reads, we should be celebrating and encouraging their starting-somewhere simple carbohydrate-book diet.

Why the iPad is Not Going to Save Publishing

Today’s release of Apple’s iPad in the United States and the absolutely hysterical reaction to it is as good a time as any to take a moment and think about the impact of devices like the iPad on publishing.

As you may or may not know, many publishing companies, particularly in newsprint, are not faring well. Newspapers across the world lost billions of dollars in the last year – their worst result in recent memory, and the word is that it’s only going to get worse. Books are faring a little better, but publishing folk are looking askance at their newspaper buddies and getting worried. This fear is partially what fuels the distaste for ebooks in the first place.

But not everyone in publishing is a backwards-looking nostalgic with a Luddite agenda. Some of them are tragic optimists as well. In fact, many people in the book trade herald each new device as the ‘killer’ gadget, the one machine to save us all. People said it about the Kindle, they’ve been saying it about gadgets like Plastic Logic’s Que for years (it still hasn’t been released) and they said it about the Nook, until it turned out to be a steaming pile of fail.

There are also a lot of people like me, who believe – wrongly – that the killer device has not been released yet, but fervently hope that when it is all our problems will be solved.

The truth is that no single device is going to save publishing. Publishing of all kinds will save itself – or die trying. Just as with the digital music revolution and the average punter’s passion for music, there is still an overwhelming fervour out there for the written word in all its guises. We still buy millions upon millions of books, from huge bestsellers like Harry Potter or Twilight to stuff like The Slap. What all these purchases prove is that people still like to read books – content is king. At the moment, particularly in Australia, consumers simply do not have access to the electronic content.

I’m not trying to point fingers here; there are plenty of publishers who are putting off the inevitable when it comes to ebooks, and plenty out there doing great things (Allen & Unwin and Macmillan, I’m looking at you). Equally there are booksellers who have been on board with ebooks for years, and others that are doing nothing. There are also authors who have been on the digital bandwagon for years, and others who are still thinking about starting a MySpace page next year.

The point is that the future isn’t going to be any different because you drag your heels and moan about the smell of books. You’re just going to get left behind. The iPad isn’t going to save publishing either – it’s just a platform with great potential. If you have any ideas for how you want to read books (or make them) in the future, then educate yourself and start making demands now. Because whether you like it or not, things are going to change, but how it changes and into what is still up to us.

Interview with JAMES ROY

Earlier this year, I was invited by the Children’s Book Council Australia (NSW Sub-Branch) to speak at their 2009 Triple-A Event, where we reflect on a year of children’s releases and toast the shortlist when it’s announced at midday. I was the Older Readers speaker, which meant I had to read every entrant in the Older Readers category. That meant I had to read the copy of James Roy’s Hunting Elephants that was sitting in my bookshelf. Despite having met the author a few times and my general feelings of guilt stemming from not actually having read any of his books, I’d been putting off reading it, because, frankly, the blurb didn’t appeal to me. Vietnam vets, a rural wedding… to say I was dreading it would be to understate the fact. Significantly.

I won’t sugarcoat it – I read it because I was forced to. Well, I started reading it because I was forced to. I finished it in a day because I absolutely loved it. It was mature, it didn’t talk down to its readers, but at the same time, it showing off. It was just genuinely well-written. That’s the key to its broad appeal – and I handed the book to Mum when I finished. She loved it, and this is the woman who’s only finished reading one other book in the past fifteen years: my own.

I selected Hunting Elephants as one of my picks for the CBCA Older Readers Shortlist, and I was really disappointed when it didn’t make it. But not being on the Shortlist  doesn’t mean a book isn’t deserving of your time, and Hunting Elephants is certainly deserving of your time.

We’re continuing our tradition of exclusive author interviews here at Boomerang by sitting down with James Roy, author extraordinaire and avid olive hater.

First off – why the hate for olives? I mean, granted, I’m Greek, but surely, no one can hate them enough to mention them in jacketflap bios AND on their website?

I don’t rightly know. Maybe it’s because they’re so bold and intense and singular (almost un-subtle) in their flavour, although I’m sure there are aficionados who will accuse me of being a trog for saying that. But I mean, even if you don’t like artichokes, they’re still a bit ‘pick ’em off if you can be bothered’, and if you get a bite of gherkin in your burger, you barely notice. But olives are almost aggressive in their boldness of flavour. I just don’t like them. Is this really what we’re going to be talking about?

Hahaha… You know my priorities: olives first, literature second. 🙂 Now, literature: 2008’s release, Hunting Elephants was one of my favourites of the year. What I loved most was the way you approached representing cystic fibrosis, and didn’t blatantly try to manipulate the audience into “feeling for the sick kid”. There was a certain understated realism to its portrayal – was it based on a personal experience… or just a lot of research?

First, thanks. And that’s more like it. Sure beats the olives question…

When I worked as a registered nurse on the adolescent unit of a major children’s hospital, there were several issues I didn’t feel I wanted to discuss in my writing, mainly because I was dealing with that stuff every day. Dying kids, mental illness, cancer, eating disorders and cystic fibrosis. But I was still observing it, and biding my time as a writer, and I wrote about other things. Then, when I stopped doing that job, I was ready to write about some of that stuff. In Town, I included a character with anorexia nervosa, and in Hunting Elephants it was CF. I saw one boy die exactly the way Joel did in Hunting Elephants, and it wasn’t pretty. Fortunately many kids with CF are getting transplants nowadays, but it’s still a tough life. So here’s my soapbox moment: tick the organ donor card on your license renewal form, people, and support CF fund-raisers. There is a cure out there somewhere.

We’ve had heaps of requests that we ask authors about their process… so, how did you go about writing Hunting Elephants? Are you a planner? What was the biggest change that came out of the editing process?

I’m not a planner. Any time I try to plan, I end up getting impatient and frustrated and just getting on with the writing. I fly by the seat of my pants, and let the book come out of asking one question, which was first said by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing).

And Studio 60… and I think I’m the only person on the planet who preferred / watched the short-lived Studio 60

Well, he said that his characters come out of asking this: “What do they want?” Lili Wilkinson goes one step further, and suggests we also ask: “What do they need?”, remembering that sometimes the want and the need are in opposition. And once you know what a character wants, you make it almost impossible to get it. That’s the conflict, right there. So this is a question that I’m asking, almost subconsciously, the whole time I’m writing.

Hunting Elephants was going to be about a tunnel rat in the Vietnam War, full of creepy stories and adventures. But when I researched and interviewed, I learnt that there is the clichéd, typecast view of the Vietnam vet – angry, sullen, traumatised, unwilling to open up – and then there are all the others. Plus one guy who didn’t in fact do very much during the war, but was more comfortable letting people believe he saw and did traumatic stuff, rather than acknowledge that his experience wasn’t in fact all that harrowing. I found his story much more interesting.

A caveat to that: this is not to say that the support guys who were based at Nui Dat weren’t  fought against, but simply that what we believe we see and what we actually see and what we’re allowed to believe are often three completely separate things.

What about it are you most proud of?

The structure. Flashback isn’t something I’ve always done well, so I found that the way it worked in Hunting Elephants was quite pleasing. I’m also quite proud of the cystic fibrosis stuff, because it feels like something of a tribute to the kids I nursed over the years, and their families, who are confronted with emotions and challenges no one should ever have to face.

You mentioned Town earlier and it’s something we have to talk about. A friend and fellow blogger, Adele Walsh, over at Persnickety Snark, picked this quotation from it that made my morning:

“And to Mr Richard Foster who is joining our geography and maths facility. He’s apparently quite the cyclist, so those of you wanting a good hard ride might like to track him down.” p.15

Town received a lot of award attention (insert dramatically long list of accolades here, including the NSW Premier’s Award [Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature 2008]), did you write it thinking it’d be so well-received, or did its reception surprise you?

Strangely, when I finished it, I felt incredibly satisfied. With almost everything else I’ve ever written, I get a serious case of cold feet once the final proofs have gone back to the publisher, and it’s now out of my control. I agonise about whether I rushed it, whether I could have sent away a better book with another six months at it, and I doubt whether it will even get bought, much less get good reviews. And shortlists and awards are the furthest thing from my mind. But with Town, I knew that it was a good book. That sounds arrogant, but I don’t mean it to be. I just felt very, very satisfied, and didn’t feel that I would have changed a single word even if I’d had another year at it. Which is ironic, because on the first reprint, we had to change several words that were typos.

Did its reception surprise me? A little, I guess. I felt it was the best book I could produce, but when it got a five-star review in Australian Bookseller and Publisher, I was a little stunned. In a good way. A very good way. And when someone tells me that they’ve read it (it’s not even necessary that they’ve enjoyed it – having read it is enough) I’m still a little surprised and flattered. I think this is because after years of writing books that got good reviews, I still felt slightly invisible. I still haven’t seen someone reading one of my books on a train or a bus, though. But I have seen someone reading Loathing Lola. True story.

Tempted to use that to a segue-way to a conversation about me… but I won’t. I know you keep churning out novels, what’s next on the horizon? Tell us about them.

Earlier this year was The Gimlet Eye, in the Quentaris series. As my first proper fantasy book, that was a lot of fun. And in the US was Max Quigley, Technically Not a Bully, which was a rebadge of Problem Child.

Later this year is Edsel Grizzler: Voyage to Verdada, which is Book 1 in a trilogy for middle-grade readers. It’s a kind of existential sci-fi thing about a boy who is transported to Verdada, the land of lost things. It’s all happy happy, joy joy in Verdada. Or so it appears…

And very early in 2010 is Anonymity Jones, a YA book about a girl whose life is in something of a tailspin, and the drastic measures she takes to regain some kind of control. I know, that’s never been done before in a YA book, has it? What’s different for me with this book is that it’s quite short, so I’ve had to be very direct and (hopefully) elegant in my prose.

And after that? The remainder of the Edsel Grizzler trilogy, and another collection of linked short stories like Town, only set in the city. The working title? City, obviously. I’m pretty excited about that one.

Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature 2010 mayhaps?… Working on anything at the moment?

Always. I’m just tidying up the end of Anonymity Jones, plus working on a couple of commissioned pieces. Plus I’m putting notes aside for some of the ten or so projects I’ve got slated for the future.

Ever considered writing another Mack book?

I was planning to, but every plot point I tried seemed too convenient or coincidental, and a little opportunistic. Never say never, but at the moment I don’t think so.

What inspired you to write The ‘S’ Word? A frustrating puberty?

Ha! Nice try!

Actually, yes, kind of. My sex education was largely from World Book Encyclopaedia. In fact, I think my mother thought I was going to be a fashion designer, because every time she came into my room I was reading about Sewing Machines. Of course, this was only a page or two over from Sex.

But to be completely serious, there were so many books for girls about their ‘changing bodies’ and ‘relationships’, but very little for boys of 10-14. There were books for much older boys, and for little kids, but I wanted middle-grade boys to be able to open my book and get answers to what was worrying or confusing or interesting them without feeling intimidated by the language, or patronised by the level of information.

I also wanted to emphasise to the next generation of young men that sexual development isn’t about the mechanics of sex, but about relationships and mutual respect. This is why I dedicated whole chapters to discussing how we talk to girls, how to behave on dates, etc. I felt a little stung by a review that said this book was potentially detrimental to relationships, because that was EXACTLY what much of the book was about. I’m still not convinced that reviewer even read the book.

I also want to acknowledge Gus Gordon for his fantastic illustrations. I asked him for a chapter header, and one illo per chapter, two illos for the longer chapters. He came back with complete cartoons, each of which tells a proper little story. He was worried that a couple of them had gone too far, but I don’t think we rejected a single one.

On your website, you mention you hate authors who take themselves too seriously, or refer to themselves in the third person… Are you willing to name-drop?

Mmm, nice try. No, although I think they – and you and your readers – know who they are.

I will say this, though. Any published writer who begins to believe that their success is a birthright or an inevitability needs to be very careful, because they’re possibly destined for a nasty surprise. I am a big believer in the sliding doors principle, where tiny circumstances can affect later outcomes. I would never argue that I am a better writer than every unpublished author, nor would I argue that I am a worse writer than some hugely successful authors. I feel privileged that I get to do this as a full-time job, and of course there needs to a be a bit of ability and truckloads of hard work. I am blessed with both those things. But there also needs to be good fortune. Consider this: had the editor to whom I sent my first book been having an off day, or had just filled her 1996 publishing schedule that morning, or simply not liked my writing, or I’d sent the wrong sample chapters, I could still be writing cover letters and filing rejection slips in my scrapbook. And that situation could come back any day.

As I say, I feel immensely privileged to be able to make stories up for a living. I filled out an online form a couple of days ago, and under occupation, I clicked on Arts/Communication. And under that was a list of about twenty jobs. Writer wasn’t on there. So few people get to do it. Yeah, I feel lucky.

So to the authors who get to smug about their success, I’d say this: be wary of believing your own publicity. There’s that old saying – ‘Be nice to the little people on the way up, because you’ll probably hit them on the way back down.’ Panel-beat that however you like for this scenario, and it still holds true.

Of your books – which one has the best opening line?

Can I have three?
“It was the last time I saw her.” (Almost Wednesday)
“Harry was dying.” (Hunting Elephants)
“Once, in a street not very far from yours, there lived a girl, whose name was Anonymity Jones.” (Anonymity Jones)

I like the last one best… Who do you prefer to write for, children or young adults?

Both. I know that sounds glib, but I really do love both, for different reasons. My imagination was somewhat snap-frozen at 10-13, thanks in no small part to the place I was living at the time, so I love writing about that time in kids’ lives, when things are simpler in many ways, but complex in others. Life’s a little more optimistic then than it is once true adolescence hits, perhaps. And yet I love being able to stretch my legs a little more when I write for older readers.

As far as speaking goes, I absolutely love getting up in front of an audience of Grade Fives and Sixes – their enthusiasm is so much fun, and they respond in a really fresh way. High school audiences can be a bit more of a challenge, but when it works, it’s incredibly rewarding.

The most frustrating thing about being a writer?

When I was a registered nurse, I had a staff room. I had colleagues. I had peer support. Writers don’t get that every day. So the loneliness – or perhaps I should say solitude – of writing can be challenging.

But I think my biggest personal frustration is that after thirteen years and almost twenty books, I still have to do as much schools work as I do, because for the most part, good reviews don’t necessarily ensure good royalties. I love schools work, but once in a while I’d like to be able to call my agent and say ‘I’m not doing any school gigs for the next three months – I’ve got some writing I want to do and I need some uninterrupted time’, and know that I can still pay the mortgage.

If you could claim any other writer’s work as your own, whose would it be?

Easy. Roald Dahl. Some authors can write funny, some can write gross, some can write important and moving. Roald Dahl did the lot. Plus he wrote some pretty good stuff for grownups.

If you could rid the world of ONE book, which would it be?

I’m tempted to say Mein Kampf, but I don’t know how widely it’s read. So probably Twilight. I think it and its companion books set the liberated woman back by about thirty years, nothing much happens, I’ve read fan fiction that is better, and I think it’s dishonest in its description of many Western teens and their attitude to sex.

Last Australian book you read?

Into White Silence by Anthony Eaton. Brilliant, creepy, chilling, and I wish I’d written it.

And the last non-Australian book I read was Tamar, by Mal Peet. It won the Carnegie Medal, and is such a fantastic blend of history, mystery and young adult angst.