Applauding Individuality – Picture Books that Celebrate Being Different

Young children don’t always notice differences in people, at least not in the passively aggressive way some adults are inclined to do. Sadly, the recognition of characteristics dissimilar to their own either physical or behavioural is largely a mindset learned from their environment. Picture books like these do a tremendous job of challenging erroneous mindsets and applauding individuality. They are charming and direct, yet subtle and entertaining enough to read repeatedly.

Along Came A Different by Tom McLaughlin

Dramatically different (pardon the pun) from anything else McLaughlin has produced before, this avant-garde picture book cleverly combines colour recognition (with emphasis on the primary colours), geometry and social acceptance all in one neat entertaining package. Several groups of differents converge into one community space but despise one another because reds, blues and yellows just don’t match. Rules are established and boundaries are enforced. Life is tense and restrictive. Until one day, quite unexpectedly, a really different different comes along, radically altering their perceptions and igniting a massive appreciation of how being different is actually better. Friendship prevails and happiness blooms.

This story told in few words and bold striking characters, relays a simple premise of live and let love. It suggests to children that you can be any shape, size, or colour and still have a voice. You can like any type of music and have friends who love oranges even if you do not. You are unique and therefore amazing. It’s that simple. A modern day classic that welcomes differences and embraces change. Magnificent. Timely. Recommended.

Bloomsbury Children’s Books May 2018

My Storee by Paul Russell and Aska

Australian NAPLAN advocates turn away now for this tremendous picture book blithely ignores language conventions and unapologetically dismisses sticklers for rules. I love how it also challenges every spell check on the planet.

Derived from the author’s own experience with dyslexia, My Storee is a beautifully refreshing expose of encouraging creativity for creativity’s sake by forsaking the bounds of perfect spelling and correctness; paradigms that can severely road block learning and advancement for a person afflicted with dyslexia.

A young boy is a master storyteller but is afraid to let his dragons loose at school for fear of grammatical reprimand. That is until a teacher with extreme foresight, long hair and very loud shirts breezes into his life and gives him permission to be who he is and shine. Thank you Mr Watson.

Full marks for this book, which screams thinking outside of the box, applauds alternative teaching approaches and champions creative verve to the nth degree. I love it, every word and every ridiculously bold bright illustration. Viva la Mr Watsons, wherever you are out there. We need more like you. My Storee is concrete reinforcement of embracing who you are and all that you have, or have not, with verve and positivity.

EK Books August 2018

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Express Yourself! – Picture Books Concentrating on Creativity

The seed of creativity takes many forms. It may lie dormant, untapped, unchallenged, or temporarily forgotten  but when nurtured, wonderful things grow. This bushel of picture books not only gives young readers permission to express themselves, but also demonstrates creativity’s diverse manifestations.

Eric Finds a Way by Robert Vescio and Ann-Marie Finn

Eric loves reading and living the stories he reads about. He aspires to write and draw his own adventures but frequently stumbles over his feelings of inadequacy. Encouraged by his ever observant and patient father, Eric persists until one day he has an idea that does not require pictures and words to enable him to journey into a story. Eric’s discovery of the power of imagination and the realisation that you can express it in many different ways is a timely reminder that not all kids like leaping into storybooks to experience new adventures and travel to new places. Nor do they have to. Finn’s beguiling collage and paint illustrations are the ideal match for Vescio’s smooth clean narrative. Inspired outside-the-box-thinking for 5 – 8 –year-olds.

Wombat Books June 2017

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Ann Patchett has been my big discovery this year

9781408844540Book Review – This Is The Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett has been my big discovery this year. For some reason I had never read her before but after her championing of independent bookselling and her blurbs popping up on a number of books I also loved I finally picked up one of her books and fell in love.

Her latest book is a collection of her non fiction writing. But this isn’t ‘a best’ of collection. The stories, articles, speeches and essays collected here are put together in a way that forms the story of Ann’s life. We get a unique insight into her life and career as a writer as well as her family, her childhood, her hometown, her friendships and her marriages.

Each piece is written with Ann’s unique honesty and clarity. I especially loved her insights into how she became a writer and her writing process. The title piece is quite simply beautiful and is a must read for anyone who doesn’t understand why marriage and marriage equality is important. I am flicking through the book now trying to choose my other favourite pieces and I really can’t separate them. And putting them together as a whole is really something special.

I am not a reader of biographies, autobiographies or memoirs but the way this book has been put together I think makes this book a much more intimate and honest portrait of a writer; her art, her craft and her life all mixed together. And I’ve already got her other non fiction book Truth And Beauty in my pile ready to go.

Buy the book here…

Rhonda is in Therapy

Rhonda is in TherapyI spent three days in Melbourne last week—something I needed to recharge and inspire me after the past three months of un-fun uncertainty and ahead of Tuesday’s widely expected Queensland budgetary hack job. It was exactly what I needed—budget or no budget, and be it writing, playwriting, or all manner of other arts practices, Melbourne just ‘does’ arts.

My trip was prompted by (bias alert) the opening of a play my sister’s currently in. Called Rhonda is in Therapy, it’s a four-person play written by playwright Bridgette Burton that examines a mother’s grief, guilt, and loneliness in the aftermath of her child’s death.

It’s dark subject matter, but incredibly compelling, and there was a buzz in the air in both the theatre where it was performed and the streets outside where laneway pubs and restaurants bustled and AFL fans hustled against the biting, wintery Melbourne weather to see their teams play football finals. In Melbourne, unlike in Queensland (I noted with plenty of envy), arts and sport abut each other effortlessly.

In Rhonda is in Therapy, we meet the Rhonda of the title (played by my sister, Louise Crawford) as she visits her new therapist (Kelly Nash). Rhonda’s specific aim is to understand why she’s started an affair with a student (played by the eminently attractive Jamieson Caldwell*) while her dutiful husband (Ben Grant) tries to hold things together at home.

The script (and its execution) is stellar, something of keen interest to me not just as a writer but as someone who is necessarily fascinated with what makes successful works of art, be they plays, TV series, films, books, or visual art. I’ve had many, many discussions in recent times about how a good script sets up a good show—without it, you can add all the big-budget special effects in the world and you’d only be (to be crass) polishing a turd.

The evidently talented Burton created the script with some help from the R E Ross Trust Playwrights Script Development Award (get outta here—funding for the arts!). I was impressed by her ability to expose both the rawness and the humour of the situation—often in quick, rollercoaster succession. I knew Rhonda is in Therapy was going to be a challenging play, but I was surprised at how often it both made me laugh and then almost immediately tear up and sniffle.

That and how the quality writing and the assured performances enabled the show to be staged with an austere but not sparse set (as a writer, I so often bring things to life in my head, it doesn’t often occur to me what they’ll look like brought to life on the stage).

The set was laid out in triangular formation, potentially connoting the love triangle—two chairs denoting the therapist’s office, a couch denoting Rhonda’s home, and a desk and two chairs contained within a floor-to-ceiling skeleton of walls that also gave the impression of cage bars.

Continuing the Melbourne-does-arts-well theme, it was fitting that Rhonda is in Therapy is playing out in fortyfivedownstairs, a not-for-profit theatre space that used to be a factory of sorts—all exposed brick, iconic windows, and exuding authenticity and history.

The theatre’s in the basement and, as you descend the stairs, you can also stop off at packed, pumping galleries on other levels. I’ll not deny that I was simultaneously inspired and despairing. What would it take for Queensland to reach the same vibe and level of arts support? Particularly in terms of writing? Our work isn’t location-specific—as long as we have pen or laptop, we can write anywhere.

Brisbane artists traditionally flee head to Melbourne to pursue their arts practice, something I both understand and am attempting to resist. Would Brisbane’s creative industries be pumping in the same way that Melbourne’s are if those artists stayed here? Or is the climate too tropical and Melbourne’s inclement, introversion-inspiring weather the necessary ingredient for groundbreaking creative work?

If you’re in Melbourne or plan on heading to Melbourne in the next few weeks, I’d highly recommend Rhonda is in Therapy (and not just because my sister’s in it). I’m still mulling over the play’s themes and nuances specifically and the rich arts culture in Melbourne more generally.

Budget or no budget, writing, playwriting, and all the arts practices in between, what do we need to do in Queensland to achieve the same?

*There was a hilarious moment the night I attended the play when Rhonda tells her young lover that she’s heading home to her husband. A middle-aged woman in the front row who clearly thought Caldwell was fairly good looking, involuntarily let her inside voice out with the surprised, slightly outraged: ‘What? No!’

Getting published? Not a fantasy says Harper Voyager

Last week I posted about some good opportunities for aspiring writers who wanted to see their work published and also to achieve the far more elusive goal of actually getting paid for it.

While writing can be its own reward, sometimes it’s nice to see some value placed on your work by others too (and even more so when you could do with the cash to buy yet more books or perhaps a bigger set of bookshelves). When it comes to writing, I’m firmly with Stephen King who once said, “If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.

Want to get your writing talent out there and have a whole manuscript gathering dust? Since posting that blog, I’ve had another excellent opportunity brought to my attention. Anyone who writes fantasy and science-fiction can tell you it’s a particularly difficult area to get any way into. But a door has just opened: for the two weeks between October 1st and October 14th, and for the first time in a decade, Harper Voyager Books will be looking at unsolicited submissions.

Harper Voyager Books is the science fiction and fantasy imprint of publishing behemoth HarperCollins, and if you make it into their ranks, you would be in some exalted company. They currently publish such huge names as George R. R. Martin, Raymond E Feist, Sara Douglass and, my personal favourites, the always excellent Robin Hobb and my best new find of this year, Joe Abercrombie.

They recommend you have a good look at what sort of books they are already publishing to see if your work would be a good fit, but they are casting a deliberately broad net on this one.

“We’re seeking all kinds of adult and young adult speculative fiction for digital publication, but particularly epic fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy, horror, dystopia and supernatural. We’ve already been publishing digital originals from our existing Harper Voyager authors, and are thrilled to expand this wider to welcome new authors and voices to Harper Voyager. The growth of eReaders and e-books have created an exciting new opportunity that allows us to begin increasing the number and diversity of our speculative fiction list. And speculative fiction readers are the most savvy early adopters so we’re keen to provide our readers with the best ebooks possible.”

Manuscripts should be between 80,000 to 120,000 words and should be completed. For more information, see  and remember, it’s only open for 2 weeks.

Still on the fantasy/sci-fi/steampunk/YA/I have really got to stop with the genres already theme,  if you’re in Melbourne tonight, Jay Kristoff’s Stormdancer is being launched.  It’s free to attend, but you need to let them know you are coming. Jay has already written an excellent series of posts on how to get from scribbling in your spare time to having three major publishers try to buy your debut offering, so there could be pearls of wisdom to be had if you can get there before one – or five – too many celebratory drinks have been had.

Spring into writing

Spring has sprung and if your spring-cleaning has uncovered your unpublished manuscript, or the warmer weather is simply stirring up your creative side, it’s a great time to get working on your writing.

But what to do with your work once it’s written? There’s plenty of opportunities out there at the moment for aspiring writers, whether it’s making contacts and meeting fellow-minded writers at literary festivals, or going straight for the prize and entering a competition. I’ve rounded up a few interesting possibilities for the budding writers amongst you.

If short and sweet – but very high-profile –  is your thing, the Age short story competition is now accepting entries. Entry is free, and comes with a cash prize to boot: first prize wins $1000; 2nd prize, $800; 3rd prize, $500. Winning stories will be published in Life & Style and at theage.com.au. Entries must be under 3000 words and should not have been previously published. Have an idea but not the completed story? You have a few weeks to get it written – the competition closes on September 28th and winners will be announced in December.

Fancy writing something a little more quirky and criminal? One of the more interesting competitions open at the moment is Australia’s Security Nightmares, a national security short story competition organised by Australian Security Research Centre (ASRC).

Entrants should submit a short story with a security scenario as the plot line or essential backdrop. An Australia context to the story is required, and the story needs to be set between today and 2020. They state that, while the story is to be fictional, “it needs to be grounded in a plausible, coherent and detailed security situation. Rather than just describing on an avalanche of frightening events, writers are encouraged to focus on the consequences and challenges posed by their scenarios, and tease out what the official and public responses would be.”

The ASRC competition also aims to raise community awareness of national security challenges and the first prize winner will be taking home $1,000 for their trouble. New and unpublished writers are encouraged to enter and entries close Sunday 30 September 2012.

If you have a full book on your hands and you want to be picked up by Penguin, their Monthly Catch could be your opportunity. For the first week of every month, the General Publishing team at Penguin Australia throw their doors open to unsolicited manuscripts. As many publishers won’t even look at a manuscript that doesn’t have a literary agent singing its praises, Penguin’s monthly open week is one of the few opportunities to get your work to a publisher with a promise that it will not be tossed straight into the recycling.

Not sure if any of the above are for you? The Australian Writer’s Marketplace prides itself on including every opportunity for aspiring writers and is an indispensable tool if you are looking to get published – although it’s about to undergo a spring-clean itself and we should be seeing the 2013 edition hitting the shelves in the next month or so.

So perhaps while you’re waiting for it to sprout up in the shops, you could get started on getting some writing done.

Running The Zombie Gauntlet. Jumping The Zombie Moat (AKA Why I Don’t Read Stephen King)

On WritingI don’t read Stephen King. Not out of some high-literary disdain for someone who’s written so much and sells so well to the general Joes. Not because he’s not a good writer. But precisely because he is.

King has proved himself time and again throughout his 50-something books that he can create an intensely believable world, grip you, and then terrify your pants off. Me? I’m easily pants-off terrified.

Two films dominated the sleepovers of my youth. One was Child’s Play (the original, although I’m aware there are more tenuously linked, money-milking, spin-off sequels than in even the current Saw series). The second film was Stephen King’s It, and I am now pathologically afraid of clowns (which I’d previously thought to be friendly critters) and stormwater rains.

All the other kids seemed to revel in being scared witless. Me? I considered—consider—it a form of torture. I am an ashamed but incurable scaredy cat with a vivid and uncontrollable imagination.

CarrieI’ve steered clear of scary books and movies every since those sleepovers where wussing out would have seen me tumble down the schoolyard social order. The exception has been Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth, but I was fooled because it was sold to me as a zombie romance that was written by a fellow wuss. I thought it was about zombies giving up their quest for brains and falling in love. I thought I was in safe, scaredy-cat hands.

I am almost too embarrassed to admit that I have to run the zombie gauntlet back from the bathroom in the middle of the night and jump the zombie moat which occupies the one-metre perimeter around my bed (The jumping on the bed went down a treat with my now ex-boyfriend, I can tell you).

The point of this long-winded background is to explain why I’d, until recently, never read King’s On Writing. I figured it would scare the bejeepers out of me, and I need to cure my irrational, zombie-gauntlet-running, bed-moat-jumping fears, not acquire new ones.

But I picked On Writing up this week, a time when I was feeling flattest about my own (lack of) talent and dim career prospects—can anyone truly make a decent living out of this difficult craft? The book’s been a revelation. I don’t for a moment consider myself in the league of this bestselling master crafter, but what King conveys through his book is that bestselling author or emerging one, we’re all facing the same struggles.

The TommyknockersA memoir of his own writing journey (just writing that sounds naff, but sorry, I’m sticking with it), On Writing outlines King’s career and inspirations and influences. How the seeds of ideas were shaped into hits like Carrie, The Tommyknockers, or The Shining. On Writing is a stellar read—King writes so well it makes me wish I could read his other work.

The books mirrors many (in fact, most) of my own experiences, from the first stories shamelessly borrowed from what he was reading at the time to the volume of rejection letters to the first taste of success to the flow-on effects of a little success—once you’ve ‘proved’ yourself through a few quality publications, it’s amazing how other publications, which had previously rebuffed you, are willing to take you on. There isn’t, King explains, a magical writing process, and there’s a lot of hard slog, refinement, more slog, perseverance, and a bit of luck.

I ate up this touchstone of a book and dog-eared almost every second page because I wanted to remember and refer back to the many, many gems of wisdom, inspiration, and encouragement contained within them (Please spare me the anti-dog-earing emails—I dog-ear books I love; it’s a compliment; it’s my thing).

ItOn Writing is perhaps a book for aspiring writers, and for emerging and mid-career ones too. I’m not in the realm of King and am unlikely to ever be there, both because I don’t have his talent and I’m completely terrified of anything scary like a zombie. But I am heartened that when you strip away the number of books published and the vast readership he has, our writing processes and experiences are similar. That ideas comes from anywhere and everywhere and fit together Tetris-like and surprising when they don’t at first appear to fit at all. That writing is as much about taking words out, keeping the words left in simple.

I might not be able to read his other books, but I will often revisit or simply dip into this dog-eared and now completely revered one. King fan or not, I recommend you do too.

iPad 2 Sells Out in the US: Should You Buy One?

 

As some of you may already know, the iPad 2 was announced on 2 March, and released on Friday in the US to much fanfare. News has officially surfaced about the tablet sales over the weekend and it seems overwhelmingly good (for Apple, at least): the iPad 2 has completely sold out, and sold more than half as many again as the original iPad. What does this mean for Australians – and more importantly, what does it mean for you?

The answer? Not much. Going by the early reviews of the second iteration, your decision to get an iPad should not be much different from when the first one was launched last year. If you were waiting for Apple to iron out the bugs for the second version, then wait no more – the iPad is ready. If you were dubious about the iPad the first time around, then it’s likely you’ll feel exactly the same way now.

Almost a year on from getting my iPad, I realise that although it’s a desirable product, it is something I found a use for rather than found useful in and of itself. It is a gadget, and as a gadget lover it is a beautiful thing. As an editor, I’ve found the iPad far more useful than I thought it would be. It’s versatile enough to read any manuscript you can throw at it, and as a device for editing it is as good or better than a laptop. As an avid reader of websites, blogs and other social media, it is a device that fits somewhere between a smartphone and a laptop. It’s also fantastic for travelling – ten hours of battery life takes you a good long way into a long haul plane trip. It is not ideal for writing – the on-screen keyboard is great for short bursts of text but for the most part it is inferior to a laptop.

For most casual users of a computer who are not yet in the habit of checking social media sites or email every hour or so, it is less useful than a laptop, and not as specialised as an e-reader in either battery life, screen quality or heft. And that means it falls between use cases. I am not an average user, and the iPad is not an average gadget.

For the most part, people still don’t really know why they want an iPad (or any tablet for that matter). Apple seems to be adjusting their own expectations as well. The original iPad was launched with a keyboard dock and a suite of Office-like apps. The iPad 2 has dropped the keyboard dock and is now concentrating almost entirely on casual media creation – it sports new video editing and music mixing apps, as well as a photo booth app for taking and editing photos.

Having said all that, if you’re still entranced by the shiny new iPad 2, and you have the money, then you should get it. This is a purpose-defining gadget – something you will use once you own, because it is a pleasure to use. If you’re a reader of ebooks, despite all my reservations about the direction Apple is going in, it is still more open and more versatile than a Kindle (or any other straight e-reader).

 

GIVEAWAY WINNER

It’s my pleasure to announce the winner for my last post’s giveaway. Congratulations to Melinda! I’ll be in touch with Melinda by email this evening to arrange the $100 worth of Booku Bucks.

NaNoWriMo Procrasti-tools

For those of you who are not masochists, you may not have heard of NaNoWriMo. It stands for National Novel Writing Month, and happens every November. Participants attempt to write 50,000 words over thirty days and thirty nights in an often vain attempt to make some headway on that novel many of us have stored in our brains and nowhere else. As an editor, I hear about these novels all the time. “Oh, I’ve got a great novel idea.” Many people do. But few people actually have the chops to sit down and write it. Hence NaNoWriMo: an opportunity to get a support network together to help motivate, cajole, plead, coerce and bribe you to write roughly 1700 words per day every day for thirty days.

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo for the past few years and have never finished. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t useful. But I am an epic procrastinator, and NaNoWriMo does not reward procrastination. I can find ways to procrastinate that would blow the minds of lesser procrastinators. One of those ways, especially around NaNoWriMo time, is to investigate software that helps you write. As you can imagine, as someone hooked on gadgets, this always seems to be a worthwhile way of spending time and inevitably ends in seven hours of procuring software and no hours of writing. So to save those of you out there, like me, who like to software procrastinate: here are some software options to help you finish NaNoWriMo.

Scrivener was my writing software package of choice for many years, and if you’re on a Mac, is still one of the best choices out there (it’s coming to Windows early next year). It’s an absolutely fantastic program for starting a new writing project, as it keeps everything you might need for writing a novel in one place, from storyboarding and research to a full-screen distraction-free writing mode that keeps you in the zone when you need to be.

I discovered Write Or Die last year when I was a week from the end of NaNoWriMo and had written about five thousand words. Unlike Scrivener, Write or Die provides little in the way of procrastination options, but is great for forcing you to write. It is utterly diabolical. Available on the web and as a downloadable desktop program, Write or Die detects when you stop typing and then gives you a little leeway (which is customisable) before the screen starts flashing and then a loud beeping sound reminds you that you shouldn’t be staring at your screen, but typing goddammit! After this warning, the words you have already written will begin to delete, one word at a time, until you start typing again. Scared? You should be.

The Pomodoro Technique is less a piece of software than a productivity approach, but there are tons of software options out there to help you Pomodoro. The basic Pomodoro premise is that you set an egg timer for twenty-five minutes and work steadily without looking at any distractions for that amount of time. That’s one pomodoro. After twenty-five minutes you give yourself five minutes to stretch your legs, check your emails and tweet about #pomodoro. Then get back into it. As I said, there are a lot of software options out there, but a good web-based one is Tomatoi.st and one I use for my iPhone (or iPad) is PomodoroPro.

So there you have it, all the procrasti-tools you’ll need not to complete NaNoWriMo this year like me. Now, I best get back to the novel.

Writing Super Hero

American PsychoI realise it’s odd that I haven’t blogged about the three sessions at which I saw Bret Easton Ellis at the Byron Bay Writers Festival, especially given that he was one of the primary reasons for me forking out the cash for a ticket and hitting the road. The truth is, I haven’t completely grasped the sessions, much less known what to write.

I went down with the very real fear that the writer to whom I’ve long looked up would not meet my pre- or potentially ill-conceived notions. I mean, he’s only human, but in my obsession with his writing genius I may have built Ellis up to writing super hero status. Certainly the media has painted him as the poster child for, well, lots of culture-slamming, disaffected-youth, violence-promoting stuff. But really, who knew what to expect from the writer who’s built his career skewering the west’s and youths’ empty and ultimately doomed fascination with consumerism?

The first session was an intimate in-conversation set-up with The Book Show’s Ramona Koval. Now, this isn’t a Koval-bashing blog, but I will say that I’m really not a fan. She’s a woman of a certain age and reading taste (and I’d argue that she’s also been doing the job for too long and is completely over it), and Blind Freddy could have seen that she was going to be a complete interviewing mismatch for Ellis.

Just how wrong, though, was pretty shocking to those of us who’d paid good money for this session in addition to our festival tickets. I won’t go into gory details here, but you can podcast or listen to an excerpt of the session on The Book Show. Long story short, Koval opened with a long and literary question and Ellis answered it with the words: ‘Delta Goodrem’.

It seems he’d seen a Goodrem music video here and, knowing nothing else of her history, tweeted that she was hot. He didn’t expect the passionate, mixed response he got to that and waxed lyrical about how Australians have a really warped, love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with Goodrem.

It wasn’t the answer Koval was after and the interview took a kind of train wreck turn for the worse, with Koval getting all school teacher meets grandmother trying to pull Ellis into line and Ellis allowing himself to be anything but.

I came away disliking Koval more than ever before, but also a little less keen on Ellis. Sure, as the author of such titles as American Psycho, he couldn’t have been a completely compliant interviewee—the man’s got an authority-bucking reputation to uphold, after all. But I wanted to like him and I genuinely wanted to hear what he had to say—unfortunately the Delta Goodrem joke was funny in the first instance, but less so as he repeatedly returned to it.

What I came to understand as the festival progressed, however, and what a few weeks of musings have helped me cement, is that despite appearing a seasoned (potentially hardened) industry professional, Ellis is a very humble, quite fallible human at heart. Quite incredibly, in spite of 25-odd years in the business, Byron was his first ever writers’ festival appearance.

And he was nervous.

It’s hard enough speaking about your work to a room full of people when you’re starting out, but potentially doubly so when you’ve already made it and are expected to be all over this stuff. Ellis had 25 years’ weight of expectation on his shoulders when he sat in front of a microphone on a stage in packed tents. Everyone expected him to both know what he was doing and to have something intelligent and articulate and incredibly insightful to say about his writing.

The issue was that he isn’t that type of writer. He’s a guy who is compelled to write and who can’t explain the—as Koval kept asking him—‘whys’ of his work. He doesn’t—and can’t—analyse it academically, and any attempt to do so makes him uncomfortable. Which is why Koval got him offside and ‘off message’ with her eight-questions-in-one literary-focused questions.

But here’s the thing. Ellis did have extraordinarily intelligent and insightful things to say about his work or the industry as a whole—he just needed to be asked straight-up, straightforward, not-too-serious questions. And when he was asked those, he answered with great aplomb and humour.

I laughed out loud when he talked of how the media constructed this mythical writing ‘Brat Pack’, as if they all got in a car and travelled together in a group at all times. I laughed even harder when he said that rather than being upset about the fact that American Psycho is sold in shrink wrap in Australia (as his publishers thought he would be), he thinks it’s ‘cute’.

It was those candid comments, his laughter in the face of trite cling-wrapped censorship, and his real-life anecdotes about the industry and about what it’s like to be a writer (padding about home alone working and occasionally catching up with friends for beers) that I found the most entertaining and memorable.

And that is perhaps what I loved and now love even more about Ellis—he’s a regular guy (which includes being prone to nerves), he’s a real writer, he doesn’t take the industry or himself too seriously, and he has brilliant and witty things to say if we stop trying to put literary, analytical words in his mouth. Upon a second listening of the now-infamous in-conversation session with Koval, I hear all that. And I officially love Ellis, my writing super hero, more than ever before.

INSPIRATION FROM A DROWNING DICTIONARY – Part Two in a profile of Children’s author, Lee Fox

Ginger McFlea Will Not Clean Her Teeth is the book featured in part two of our profile on Australian children’s author, Lee Fox.

Although the inspiration for parts of Ginger’s story also came from exposure to water, Lee Fox explains that it was quite a difference experience from what sparked Ten Little Hermit Crabs.

I  was holidaying in the Northern Territory. While I was writing the first draft for “Teeth”, the rhyming dictionary fell into the crocodile infested river and I had to fish it out with a stick. That’s how choppers became part of the story.

You have said that Ginger is your favourite out of all the characters you have created. Can you tell us why?

I love the look that Mitch Vane has given her. She is strong willed, smart, funny and creative. I like the way that Ginger is smart enough to realise that by doing the right thing she is not losing anything, that in fact she is gaining something important.

Can you tell us about Ginger’s Story?

Ginger McFee refuses to look after her teeth.  They are awful, smelly and full of cavities. It takes a clever doctor and the Tooth Fairy to turn Ginger’s attitude around.

What did you enjoy most about writing Ginger McFlea Will Not Clean Her Teeth?

Ginger McFlea is the twin of Jasper McFlea in Jasper McFlea Will Not Eat His Tea. I loved the opportunity to turn Ginger’s character around in this book. It was fun to show how characters and people have different dimensions, not always good and not always bad.

How did you come to create characters like Ginger?

I didn’t set out to become a children’s author, but it makes sense to me now that I’ve become one because I adore children and babies. I’m also very in touch with the adolescent who still lives within me. She gets a voice when I’m writing YA fiction.

Who will enjoy reading this book?

Children aged 3 to 8 will be able to relate to the main character Ginger, who is funny and creative, but likes things her own way. There’s also Ginger’s cute pet turtle, Keith and Dr Felicity Cheek, the funkiest dentist in the universe.

In this book there are plenty of fun rhymes and synonyms for teeth. And Mitch Vanes gorgeous illustrations are so much fun.

There are other books written about children and teeth. Is there something about Ginger McFlea Won’t Clean Her Teeth that sets it apart from other books on this topic?

It uses a lot of humour and one reviewer said recently that, “This book teaches, but doesn’t preach.”

How could teachers use this book in a classroom?

It’s a great way of getting kids to write about things they don’t like. It can be fun for kids to take that topic and stretch it out of all proportion.

Thanks so much for visiting Kids’ Book Capers, Lee and sharing how your write your books. It has been lovely talking with you.

Dee

Clutter, clutter and more clutter

My little blog bio proudly proclaims: “Bookish bloggings from the cluttered mind and bookshelf of Melbourne author, George Ivanoff.” I feel the need to explain.

My mind, my bookshelf (actually, that should be bookshelves, plural) and, indeed, my life, are cluttered. I work in a clutter. I share an office with my wife (a graphic artist). The office is divided down the middle by desks and shelving. Her side is neat and organised, as indeed, is her mind and approach to work. My side is … well … cluttered. (Am I overusing the ‘c’ word?) My shelves are piled with random collections of books, magazines, papers, DVDs, video tapes (Eeek! Old technology!) toys, cinema cups and unclassifiable paraphernalia. Every inch of my desk is taken up with something … anything. I submit, for your appraisal, Exhibit A:

My mind and my approach to writing approximate the look and feel of my workspace. My mind is rarely devoted to just one thing at any given moment. For instance — what am I reading? I am currently part way through the following:

  • John Christopher’s Tripods trilogy
    I’ve finished the first two books, The White Mountains and The City of Gold and Lead. Just the final book, The Pool of Fire, to go. Oh, and I’ll then read the prequel as well — When the Tripods Came.
  • One Step Ahead: Raising 3–12 Year Olds by Michael Grose
    I’m Dad to a 1-year-old and an almost-7-year-old, so I need to occasionally dip in to these sort of books in order to maintain my sanity. Or, at least, attempt to maintain my sanity. (Somewhere down the track I’ll have to do a post about finding the time to write while looking after kids.)
  • Issue 42 of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine
    I’m not a regular reader of this magazine. I got this issue because there’s a full-colour ad for Gamers’ Quest on the back cover. But, so far, I’m really enjoying the mag and even contemplating a subscription. Highly recommended if you’re into science fiction and fantasy, short stories.
  • The February issue of Oz Kids in Print
    This mag is published by the Australian Children’s Literary Board. Again, I’m not a regular reader. I’ve got this issue because it contains one of my articles.
  • The April issue of Victorian Writer
    This is one of my regular reads, as I’m a member of the Victorian Writers’ Centre.

Okay, that takes care of reading. What about writing? Here’s a round up of what I’m currently working on.

  • I’m just finishing up the second book in a series of kids’ reference books about nutrition. This book is about fibre but I’m not allowed to use the word ‘poo’, even though the book is aimed at second grade level. What do I use? Faeces? Digested waste material excreted from the bowels? Number twos? Doo-doo? My mind is spinning with euphemisms.
  • Tornado Riders
    This is a teen novel that I’m working on. At the moment it’s still very much in the planning stages as I scribble ideas, character outlines and scene snippets in my notebook. Whether it is ever completed, and then whether it is ever published, remains to be seen. After all, I have a draw full of unpublished (probably unpublishable) stuff that I feel to urge to add to occasionally.
  • Answers to two sets of interview questions for two different websites about the writing of Gamers’ Quest. One day I’ll write a post about what it’s like promoting a book.
  • And then, of course, there’s this little blog, which I’m planning as a twice-weekly endeavour.

So there you have it — a little insight into the workings of my cluttered little mind. But what about all of you out there in the blogosphere? Are you cluttered? Are you uncluttered? Have you ever de-cluttered? Leave a comment and share your experiences.

Now, as a final note (and simply because I feel the need to use that word one more time), may I say — embrace your CLUTTER!

Tune in next time, when you’ll hear me say: “Enough about me! Time to talk about a book!” And that book shall be The Star by Felicity Marshal.

Catch ya later,  George