Australian and US YA: I’ll Be There – Inbetween Days

Inbetween DaysSeventeen-year-old girls and their circumstances are portrayed very differently in Vikki Wakefield’s Inbetween Days (Text Publishing) and Holly Goldberg Sloan’s I’ll Be There (Scholastic). Could the authors’ nationalities – Australian and American – and writing style be part of the reason?

Vikki Wakefield uses an Australian regional town setting (provokingly named ‘Mobius’) to forecast the dead-end of Jack’s (Jacklin) hopes for a better future. She has left school to work in a general store but is manoeuvered out of even that lowly job. Her sister Trudy has returned from Europe after leaving home in frosty conditions and Jack moves in with her but that situation is also under pressure.

Jack uses sex to keep her unacknowledged relationship with Luke alive. But she really wants to be privately and openly adored. Jeremiah seems to offer love but can he withstand Jack’s careless treatment?

Wakefield’s rendering of Jack as vulnerable yet tough, knowing yet naive, seems to point to a lacklustre future but can she summon enough self-esteem, resilience and drive to change her prospects?

Vikki Wakefield’s writing style seems particularly Australian in its understated tone. Characters act in particular ways and incidents occur realistically, without gilding but still with interest and engagement. The events in the forest and derelict drive-in theatre offer surprise without hyperbole.

I'll be thereIn contrast American film writer and director Holly Goldberg Sloan’s debut novel (but second to be published in Australia after the wonderful Counting by 7s), I’ll Be There (Scholastic Australia) is written in a heightened style and abounds in idealism and coincidences. Like Inbetween Days it is an affecting read.

Seventeen-year-old Emily is quite protected. She is empathetic and loving. When her father makes her sing the pop song I’ll Be There as a solo at church even though she doesn’t have a good voice, she seems to be singing to Sam, who has walked in off the street. His father is a thief who has kept Sam and his younger brother Riddle out of school and drifting from place to place for years.

Sam is an enigma but is accepted into Emily’s family because of his untrained musical ability. Riddle is  talented at art but is quite damaged, almost mute and with undiagnosed asthma. Emily’s mother develops a bond with him but neither boy can be pinned down because of their strange, antisocial upbringing and the control and vagaries of their dangerous father.

Despite suffering extreme physical trauma, Sam learns that ‘making a connection to a person can be the scariest thing that ever happens to you’. Emily learns that ‘while the world around you obsesses over all the wrong things, you know the secret. You know that there are things that matter, and then there is everything else.’ The words of the title song become even more moving as the book nears its end.

Even though the characters, pacing of events and writing style of these two novels are very different, both stories speak powerfully to their readers. Both ultimately have hope.Counting by 7s

I’m not loafing, I’m doing research

Is it too late to say – Happy New Year! I hope you’ve had a great start to the year.

I’ve been flat out working all summer. My friends and family would probably say otherwise, that I’ve been lazing around on holidays, that I’ve barely had my laptop open. But that’s just the point.

Paradise, NZI’ve been travelling, gazing out plane windows, eavesdropping at restaurants, chatting with strangers, watching movies, gathering characters, uncovering settings, and generally getting inspired. It’s called research. It’s a tough part of writing, but it has to get done. What can I say?

The Moth DiariesI’ve also consumed a lot of books. I read everything with a highlighter in one hand and an analytical eye, looking for ways to improve my own writing. That sometimes takes the fun out of reading, but I definitely appreciate a well-written book, more than I ever did.

I thoroughly enjoyed Rachel Klein’s menacing YA gothic tale – The Moth Diaries. It’s no ordinary teen vampire story. The tension is between the girls at an exclusive boarding school. The sixteen-year-old narrator records her thoughts – diary-style, as questions start to mount about the identity of new-girl, Ernessa, and her intentions towards the narrator’s best friend, Lucy. It’s a compelling and haunting read.

A toxic friendship is also at the heart of Rebecca James’ YA page-turner, Beautiful Malice. Beautiful MaliceThe book hooked me right from the first line – I didn’t go to Alice’s funeral, and kept me racing right to the end, as it flicked between three different time periods. The main thread focuses on the blossoming friendship between two girls in their final year of high school. But Katherine’s hopes of escaping her tragic past sour as her new friend Alice’s motives start to look sinister.

State of GraceMeanwhile, utopia is not quite what it seems in Hilary Badger’s debut YA novel, State of Grace. This clever story puts a group of teenagers in an earthly paradise, where everything and everyone is beautiful. But when Wren starts having visions of another life, she has to decide whether to investigate what lies beyond the idyllic garden or continue to live in perfect ignorance. An intriguing read.

Happy researching!

Julie

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

 

 

What I’m reading this Christmas: Anna O’Grady, Simon & Schuster

Anna O'Grady in front of her home library
Anna O’Grady in front of her home library

Thanks to Anna O’Grady for talking to Boomerang Books today, and sharing your Christmas picks with us. First, let’s find out more about you and some of the books you’ve been working on.

You’re the Marketing and Publicity Manager at Simon & Schuster. What does your job entail?
How much time do we have? I like describing it as ‘parenting’ a book and making sure that I find the best possible home for it. It all starts by understanding who would enjoy the particular title, and then the fun part of thinking of the best means of reaching that audience. Nowadays there are so many different ways that this can be achieved.

In the last few months I’ve worked on creating online trailers and ads, organized blog tours, pitched titles to festivals, events and media and talked to our book loving community over various social media channels.

How did you get this job?
I am the third generation working in the book world from a family of booksellers and publishers. For the better part of my life I have been lucky enough to continue our family tradition across six different countries. However, bookselling is rapidly changing and for a few years I have wanted to try my hand in a publishing house. All the stars aligned really well this year and I ended up with the amazing team at Simon & Schuster Australia. I have learnt a tremendous amount but it also has been a lot of fun.The Fly Trap by Fredrik Sjoberg

What is different/special about Simon & Schuster?
One of the things I really like about Simon & Schuster is that it is a small publishing house. There are just over 20 people in the office and that means that there are opportunities to try different things in different areas of the book business. For example, even though my official role is within the marketing and publicity department, I am also part of the acquisition team – so I have a chance to read new manuscripts and contribute to the decision on publishing these.

I also really love the staff’s passion for books we publish within the Simon & Schuster program. A lot of larger houses release so many books that it is physically impossible for everybody to be familiar with all titles. Our publishing program is small enough that almost everybody in-house can read all the books we publish and be able to meet all the authors in person. I really love being in an office where everybody reads and where books are celebrated every day.

I suspect you love all the books you work on, but could you tell us about some that you are particularly proud of?
It has been quite a year for me, and I often feel in awe of the amazing authors that I have been taking care of. I will highlight two – only because they are so completely different. The first one was my campaign for debut author Ellie O’Neill’s book Reluctantly Charmed. Debuts are notoriously difficult to break out, but I felt special pressure on this one because everybody at Simon & Schuster loved this book. In the end we had a great campaign that was embraced by a major sponsor – Tourism Ireland – and also created a lot of buzz in the book blogging community. I am already looking forward to the second book from Ellie coming next year.A Thousand Shards of Glass cover by Michael Katakis

The other campaign that will probably stay in mind for a very long time was A Thousand Shards of Glass by Michael Katakis. Although Michael is a world class photographer, an overseer of the intellectual property of Hemingway and an author of very thought provoking books, he is very little known in Australia. We decided to bring him here for a tour and I had the task of arranging events and media for his tour. This took several months and many, many phone calls and emails to organize. Because Michael is relatively unknown some event organizers took some persuasion and were hesitant to the last moment. In the end the response to Michael’s tour was exceptional and well worth all our efforts. I have never seen such an emotional reader–writer reaction, with many people moved to tears at events, and many readers calling and sending emails – and in one instance hand delivering a letter of thank you to our offices. There is nothing more special than seeing that connection in front of my eyes and knowing that I helped make it happen.This Changes Everything Naomi Klein

What do you see as the way forward in the book industry?
I have been watching the book industry very carefully for at least 20 years now and I find some changes painful, but I also see a lot of great things on the horizon. I think that we might be experiencing a new golden age of storytelling. There are more people reading than ever before, and they access books in many formats and ways. But what is even more exciting is that readers have more to say, and the means to say it, than ever before. The future of the publishing industry is in deepening the connection to readers and embracing new ways of telling and experiencing stories. I have no doubt that great books and storytellers will always find their audience.

What are your must-reads over Christmas?
I have been building my little Christmas stack for a while now – and as usual I am probably overambitious. Here are the titles that are currently sitting in my Christmas pile: The Fly Trap by Fredrik Sjoberg; The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel; In Certain Circles by Elizabeth Harrower; The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber; and This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein – but who knows what other gems I might find under my Christmas tree.In Certain Circles by Elizabeth Harrower

What is your secret reading pleasure?
I really enjoy many YA novels, love a good mystery, and have a fascination with horror fiction. For me some of the great horror and crime writers are amongst the best at the craft of writing – although critics often disregard them.

Thanks very much for speaking with us, Anna.
You’re most welcome, it’s been a pleasure.

Dim’s Top 25 Cracking Christmas Reads for Kids

All righty, you’ve noted what others are reading this Christmas. You are possibly getting a little woozy from a department store diet of flashy titles and quick fixes but you still haven’t managed to locate that special literary treasure for the younger person or young at heart person in your life.

The following list is by no means definitive or complete but it includes some of the past year’s most inspiring, evocative and memorable reads for me. It’s a composition of glorious, emotion packed picture books, laugh-out-loud midgrade readers, and heart stopping YA thrillers. In short, a real mixed bag of goodies, mostly Australian, many of which I’ve been fortunate enough to review this year. Use it as a reminder of some of the more notable releases of 2014 (and beyond) and a springboard into the vast, ever expanding reservoir of Kids’ Lit. Here we go:

Top 25 Cracking Reads (in no particular order)

  1. The Art of Racing in the Rain The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein –  An extraordinary uniquely told story of good versus evil, the essence of power and knowledge and the meaning of true conviction. It’s ultimately also a tale about the strength of love at  every level; portrayed through the eyes and thoughts of Enzo, the family dog, with exceptional reality and heart. Written with uncompromising warmth and wit, this is a novel I could easily pick up and start all over again for the sheer sense of freedom it stirred up and the wonderful realities it forced me, as a mere human, to take stock of.
  2. Figgy in the World by Tamsin JanuGorgeous tale of courage, tenacity and humility and an outstanding example of simplicity that truly impacts, set in Africa’s heartland. Ideal for idealistic 7 + year olds.
  3. The Duck and the Darklings by Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King – A whimsical journey of despair, discovery, renewal and hope that is indeed a little bit strange, a little bit dark and a little bit different. It is also a lot of wonderful. Click on the title for full review of this devastatingly brilliant picture book.
  4. Are You Seeing Me Are You Seeing Me? by Darren Groth – Utterly utterly utterly deserving of the investment of your time and heart. Searingly beautiful and funny and sad and real. Like life itself.
  5. Smooch and Rose by Samantha Wheeler – A tale of one girl’s courageous and staunch attempt to stand up to the big guns of development in hope of keeping at least part of a local koalas’ habitat intact told with moving conviction.
  6. Weir Do series by Anh Do – A heavily illustrated cartoon-like, side-splittingly humorous series of novels that will cause kids to smash open their piggy banks. A real rib tickling and surprisingly tender look at today’s social diversity, family make-up, and how little kids with unfortunate names fit into the mix.
  7. Oliver by Judith Rossell – Superb. Clear, clever clarity. Oliver is everyone’s younger brother, kid next door, beguiling 6 year old, and he is perfect. I wanna go jet packing with him for ever. Because every one wants to fly.
  8. Word Hunters Word Hunters Trilogy by Nick Earls and Terry Whidborne – Ingenious, action packed trilogy oddly but most effectively centering on the etymology of English. A tour of history clothed in modern day witticism. Loved it.  Exhilarating and gripping. Lovers of words, history and adventure will revere this series.
  9. Eric Vale Series by Michael Gerard Bauer – Mr Bauer’s books are never ever short on style, wit or substance. A definite epic WIN for Eric. Kids can prolong their enjoyment with the spinoff series, Derek Danger Dale.
  10. Once a Creepy Crocodile by Peter Taylor and Nina Rycroft – An entertaining Aussie mash-up of The Gruffalo meets the best of billabong bush lore. Absolutely adored this easy to sing-a-long with picture book rendition of Walting Matilda.
  11. The Croc and the Platypus by Jackie Hosking and Marjorie Crosby-Fairall – An ingenious retelling of a childhood classic, The Owl and the Pussycat however, much more loose and flowing and bizarrely, even easier to read than the original. A great picture book to include on your classics shelf with heavy accent on Australiana.
  12. My Mum Says the Strangest Things My Mum Says the Strangest Things by Katrina Germein – The Katrina Germein and Tom Jellet team that gave us My Dad Thinks he’s Funny and My Dad Still Thinks he’s Funny, train their humorous cross-hairs on mum’s idiosyncratic refrains this time, with deadly accuracy. For adult readers, the sweet irony of mum’s idiomatic expressions is difficult to ignore and impossible not to relate to. This books cracks me up every single time.
  13. Awesome Aussie Things to Do with Mum by Ed Allen and Simon Williams – A lovely little (hardcover) book full of lovely little things to share with mum, especially if you are in need of a creative, recreational past-time other than looming. Some old fashioned fun favourites to share with your kids (like Knuckle Bones!) with the underlying message that the most awesome thing of all that you can do for mum is…’to let her do absolutely nothing at all.’ There’s a Dads’ version too.
  14. 12 10 front cover PS Who Stole Santa’s Mail? by Dimity Powell (How did that get in here?) Quite possibly the dinkiest little Christmas mystery you’ll find this side of the Christmas tree packed with more laughs than you’ll find raisons in your fruit mince pies. A must for your stockings!
  15. Jake in Space Series banner Jake in Space Series by Candice Lemon-Scott and Celeste Hulme – Galaxies of intergalactic fun. Space-aged adventures mid-primary school kids can really get carried away with – providing they have their space suits on. And there’s six in the series which gives young readers plenty of time and incentive to explore the entire universe!  The covers are truly out of this world.
  16. monster chef Monster Chef by Nick Bland – Nick Bland has moved on from bears to monsters in this spicy little offering about challenging ones fears and striving to stand out with delicious rhyming verse and illustrations. A kind of Master Chef meets master storyteller.
  17. The Nights before Christmas illustrated by Tony Ross – The penultimate Advent Calendar for bibliophiles and true lovers of Christmas. Click on title for full review. My Christmas pick of the season.
  18. Edward and the Great Discovery by Rebecca McRitchie and Celeste Hulme – A picture book tale about hope and daring gently exposing young readers to the wonders of natural history.  Both exciting and touching and a wondrous introduction to scientific discovery whilst fostering a deeper understanding of true friendship.
  19. Vanilla Icecream by Bob Graham – Any list would be incomplete without a Bob Graham offering. Click on title for full review. You will be hard pressed to find a better way to introduce the complex ideals of human rights, fate, and immigration to young ones where a lightness of touch is more readily comprehended than harsh dry facts than with this beautiful picture book.
  20. Violet Mackerel Series by Anna Branford and Sarah Davis Impossibly brilliant seven book series, exquisitely illustrated and divinely humorous and touching. My primary schooler soaks up Violets’ stories with infinite delight. Highly recommended.
  21. Bully on the Bus Bully on the Bus by Kathryn Apel / Roses are Blue by Sally Murphy Simply must include two in this verse novel listing. Both incredibly poignant and beautifully crafted novels dealing with bullying and loss respectively from two of the best verse authors in the biz. Sustained, moving storytelling that will leave you with wet eyes and an overflowing heart.
  22. Little Chef Big Curse by Tilney Cotton – Possibly one of the most exuberant reads I’ve enjoyed in ages. I’m not sure if it’s because of the foodie in me or the zealous, ribaldry with which Cotton writes but Little Chef, BIG Curse is utterly delectable and insanely moreish. Click on title for full review.
  23. The Boy on the Page by Peter Carnavas – An exceptionally good picture book about a small boy’s life journey as he attempts to fathom that most ponderous of human dilemmas: the meaning of life. Existentialism stripped bare and very beautiful.
  24. Midnight by Mark Greenwood and Frane Lessac / The Horses Didn’t Come Home by Pamela Rushby – Again I must include two titles, one a picture book, one a YA novel, that each focus on the the great First World War campaigns involving the Australian light horse regiments. Each of these books deals with the campaign in the Sinai desert in a way that young readers will resonate with even though the story is over 90 years old. Heart-wrenchingly evocative with strong patriotic and historic appeal.
  25. The Simple Things The Simple Things by Bill Condon In a world that I find increasingly more and more complicated, The Simple Things is a refreshing and realistic breath of fresh air. Click on title for full review. Easy to read and easy to like, it’s ‘smiley face perfect’.

There you have it. Agree or disagree, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the beauty these words and sounds and images create for our children’s worlds. Nurture their imaginations, enrich their knowledge, and embolden their dreams with as many books as you can get your hands on for them this Christmas!

 

Reviews – YA fiction addiction

YA stackAccording to teen author, Charmaine Clancy there are a few issues that rate more highly than others for teen readers of YA fiction. These include problems dealing with: sexuality, freedom, relationships and friendships, social power, anger, fear, risk taking, social responsibility and bullying, to name a few.

The following YA titles represent modern day takes on common reoccurring teenage dilemmas, ticking at least one or more of these boxes. They are all highly recommended reads for young people plummeting into puberty and new belief systems as they navigate the next course of their lives. All riveting, well-crafted stories that will leave your nerves tingling, your heartbeat racing, and your tears well and truly jerked. Enjoy!

Intruder Intruder by Christine Bongers

I ripped through this one like a dog on steroids at an agility trial. Terrific. Gutsy, three-dimensional characters displaying equal parts humility, vulnerability, and bravado while tossing around some cracker one-liners people this teenage angst-y tale about losing and finding.

Kat Jones is left exposed and violated after an intruder invades her home. Feeling alone and isolated after the earlier death of her mother, she must rely on her despised next-door neighbour, Edwina, and Hercules, Edwina’s ugly canine companion to overcome her current dread and face her former demons. Fortunately mutt love and new bloke on the block, Al all help to rebuild Kat’s fragile lines of defence.

Christine Bongers writes with dramatic heart and unabashed confidence. Her reference to devils-on-horseback was a marvellous slingshot back into the 70s for me too. Great that teens can be entertained and educated in one fell swoop of the pen. A pure pleasure to read. Teenage somethings will suck this up.

Woolshed Press imprint of Random House June 2014

Bleakboy and Hunter Stand Out in the Rain Bleakboy and Hunter Stand Out in the Rain by Steven Herrick

Eleven year-old Jessie is a boy with seemingly insurmountable problems not least of which is accommodating his square-fit self into the round-fit ideals of his communal-based school and community. Local bully, Hunter complicates the mix further until enterprising, Kate rallies with Jessie to ‘Save the Whales’ and inadvertently, Jessie’s sense of humanity and place.

Delightfully, Hunter proves that even the most malignly misunderstood antagonists can be real modern day heroes when ‘some things are too big for (one) boy to solve’ alone.

The conclusion was a little soft and spongy however, a sense of optimism as sweet as bubble bath fug hung about long after the end. Slightly eccentric, more than a little funny, warm, tender, and witty. The back cover blurb does not do this story justice; it meandered on a bit but I don’t think that will stop upper primary aged boys and girls thoroughly enjoying this sometimes acerbic, mostly uplifting read. I certainly did.

UQP May 2014

Sinner Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater

This is the fourth book in the immensely popular Shiver series. I can’t comment on the first three having dived into this instalment without preamble or past research, but found it stood proud and solid on its own and at no point whatsoever did I experience any confusion or wonder what had taken place previously in the lives of main protagonists, Cole St Clair and his love interest, Isabel. Like the storyline itself, they and the characters surrounding them are crafted with stinging conviction.

Cole has a secret that only a select few are privy to. He is the epitome of a genius, self-abusing, addictive personality, overachieving rock star whose Achilles heel is Isabel, a girl with a macadamia tough exterior he is desperate to crack. How Cole sheds his former demons and absolves his misdeeds with the help and hindrance of those he meets under the surreal light of California is page-turning material.

Stiefvater masterfully tells Coles and Isabel’s story in a raw and powerful way that often leaves you chuckling at their darkest hours. Thrilling stuff for older teens.

Scholastic Australia August 2014

State of Grace State of Grace by Hilary Badger

‘A utopian rose in a bed of dystopian thorns’ is a fairly accurate description of Hilary Badger’s (aka H.I. Larry of the bestselling Zac Power series) first venture in YA fiction. From the first sentence, an unsettled, creepy air descends upon the reader beautifully obscured by a veil of lush garden-of-Eden idealism. Since her creation, Wren has lived an idyllic life in a perfect paradise with life-loving companions and a deity like no other to worship, Dot.

However, not all is as ‘dotly’ as it seems (per the local non-negative lingo of the inhabitants of Dot’s Paradise). When cracks begin to appear in Wren’s memories and belief system, she and fellow creation, Blaze must decide whether to confront their horrid pasts or succumb to an unreal future.

A disturbing and illuminating combination of our not too distant future lives that rests lightly on friendship, authoritarianism, blind faith, and facing truths. There are zillions of twists, some no bigger or harder to appreciate than a butterfly but most are comfortably homed in a solidly built world thanks to Badger’s bright imagination. 14 + year olds will enjoy the mystifying experience A State of Grace provides.

Hardie Grant Egmont October 2014

 

Hazel Edwards discusses collaboration and controversy

Hazel EdwardsOn the day that prolific Australian author, Hazel Edwards was honoured with an Order of Australia Medal for services to literature, her latest young adult novel was receiving a very different distinction at the other end of the country.

Hazel Edwards has written more than 200 books, including the hugely popular Hippopotamus picture book series, but none has provoked the reaction of f2m: the boy within. The book, co-written by Ryan Kennedy, tells the story of Skye who becomes Finn and transitions from female to male.

F2m prompted heart-felt messages of thanks from teenagers facing gender challenges of their own, but it also provoked a hostile reaction from other places.

F2m: the boy within was banned from a library in North Queensland on the day Hazel Edwards was awarded her OAM. Elsewhere, it was thrown in the bin by a teacher who described it as ‘rubbish,’ and left off library lists because of concerns over the sensitive subject matter.

But for Hazel Edwards and Ryan Edwards the story was too important to allow it to be smothered by fear. So, they have extended their project. Ftm: the boy within is now the subject of a documentary and a YouTube clip which highlight the importance of fiction in dealing with sensitive personal issues.

Hazel Edwards chats with me today, about f2m: the boy within, the documentary and diversity.

You are best known for your delightful picture books featuring a cake-eating hippo. What prompted you to write about gender transitioning?

f2mDocumentary-Image-PAGEFtm means female to male transitioning. But our title is f2m, like adolescent texting and also indicates our collaboration. Co-author Ryan is a family friend, whom I’d known since he was 11, and presenting as a girl. I knew he was transitioning from female to male, and admired his courage. A great collaboration. It would have taken me years to research what he already knew. Plus he’d kept a medical diary, and although the f2m: the boy within is fiction, NOT an autobiography, the medical sequences are accurate.

We chose YA novel format because 17-ish is time for photo ID for drivers licence and when most teens are seeking their identity. Ford Street Publishing who specialise in edgy YA, was willing to support our risky project. Brave.

It was short-listed by the internationally prestigious White Ravens best YA fiction 2011.

Can you explain a little about this collaboration?

This project has taken more work than any of my other books, and is probably the most significant.

Since Ryan is New Zealand based and I’m in Melbourne, we wrote on Skype across a year and more than 30 drafts – a few embarrassing mistypings on my part with Skye (the character) and Skype (the process).

Ryan created the book trailer, and has adapted the doco length to go up on YouTube. He also organized the NZ book launch with me present only on webcam on the wall of the Wellington Unity Bookshop.

Initially print published, the e-book is now important for easy access. And we hope it will be translated into other languages and new media.

This was a first: the subject of transitioning gender in a Young Adult novel, co-written by an actual ftm (female to male) author.

Skye transitions to Finn with the help of bemused friends and family, punk music and a Gran who understands because she had a sibling facing similar challenges. Being able to use fiction to initiate discussion has been helpful for families and for gender diversity groups, because ‘it’s the kind of novel you can give to a parent too.’

“Tick the box. M or F. Male or Female are the only options ‘ordinary’ people know about. M for Male. F for Female. You’re one or the other. But what if you’re not? Like me. As I’m finding out.”

What reaction did f2m: the boy within get?

f2mMixed. We’ve had fantastic fan mail, fan art and much gratitude from diverse families who use it as a discussion starter. The subject is controversial, but not our handling of it. Ryan has had poignant e-mails from readers reassured that they are not the only ones, and grateful older readers who wished the book had been available earlier. ‘Might have saved lives and anguish.’

Although widely and positively reviewed, it’s often left off reading lists by apprehensive librarians who fear objections from minorities. Placed on the banned shelf in a public library in north Queensland, the same day I was awarded an OAM for Literature at Government House (not connected), but approved by groups like the Safe Schools Coalition Victoria and word-of-mouth recommendations. It was also short-listed by the internationally prestigious White Ravens best YA fiction 2011. The problem is that if the book is not available, it can’t be read or found.

Were you surprised by the reaction?

No, we’d expected some negative comments. Our greatest surprise was from those who had NOT read the book, yet refused to put it into their libraries or allow others to read it. We thought the literary collaboration between a heterosexual grandmother and an ftm would reassure. It did. We did lots of radio, including ABC Life Matters, which is indexed as a podcast.

Can you tell us about the documentary on reactions to the gender-transitioning subject in f2m: the boy within

Psychologist Meredith Fuller, a co-director of Kailash Studios offered to interview both co-authors as a documentary. It took a year to get us all together to film on the one day. Director Brian Walsh who is also a psychologist, produced the documentary.

The documentary attempts to answer, via interviewing the co-authors the creativity of coping successfully with diversity. Especially when others may fear change or diversity.It has already been screened at festivals such as Shepparton’s Out in the Open, Melbourne’s Midsumma and the international 2014 AIDs conference.

How important is fiction for tackling difficult issues, especially for adolescents?

Vital. YA fiction offers an opportunity to see from the viewpoint of that character for the length of the story and beyond. If you are in circumstances like that character, it reassures you are not the only one. And in the case of transitioning gender, a subject about which there is little information for outsiders, it educates readers, via compassion. It’s hard enough finding your identity as a mainstream adolescent, but the complication of feeling you are in the wrong kind of body, is overwhelming. And if ignorant others shun you, that makes things worse.

Our book has prevented suicides. But a novel can’t just be propaganda, it must be a story in its own right. We avoided ‘sensationalising’ which is what often happens with trans gender in media. Within the novel, we have a range of family and friends, humour and punk music and even a bullying scene.

f2m: the boy withinWhat’s next for you?

Finishing my memoir: Let Hippos Eat Cake: Being a Children’s Author or Not?

Thanks for visiting, Hazel, and good luck with f2m and finishing your memoir.

Author websites:

http://www.hazeledwards.com

http://ryanscottkennedy.com

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

 

 

A visit from Dianne Bates

When Counterfeit Love, my latest book for young adults, came out this year, I have to admit to suffering a little fatigue. I’d had eleven books published in four years, and was feeling like I’d just finished an ultra marathon. But when I look around at my fellow children’s authors, I realise I’m just ambling along.

dianne-batesToday I welcome an author who has more than 120 titles to her name. Dianne Bates has a flair for humour, but has delved into some very disturbing topics in her young adult fiction. Bates has drawn from personal experience in her work, including her latest book – The Girl in the Basement – which tells the story of a girl abducted and held in a basement, awaiting her fate.

Here, she answers some questions about her work.

You’ve written more than a hundred books, across lots of topics, but your YA books seem to focus on very dark themes – abandonment, self-harm and kidnap. Why is that?

Most of my fiction books for younger readers are humorous! I guess the darker issues are something that I feel suit teens who are transitioning into the adult world and so often suffer much angst. During my adolescent years I knew abandonment and the feeling of being trapped, also I self-harmed. It’s said that one should write about what one knows, so I often draw on my life experiences when I write social-realism (which is most of the time).

Can you explain the inspiration for your latest book – The Girl in the Basement?

The Girl in the BasementAs a child I lived in a household of domestic violence and was constantly in fear of what might happen next, so I could well relate to the experiences of a teenage girl who is trapped physically and psychologically. I also had first-hand experience of an unpredictable man in my life so you could say I didn’t need to do much research but could draw on my childhood memories.

I read a lot of crime fiction and real-life crime books which I found helpful in creating the life and mind of a criminal (the book is told from two points of view). In researching specifically for The Girl in the Basement (Morris Publishing Australia), I read about the experiences of young, abducted women who managed to flee their abusers. In particular, Sabine Dardenne’s whose book, I Choose to Live, about her 80 days in captivity, gave me a real insight into the experience and mindset of being kidnapped. Interestingly, the same week that the women were released from years of captivity in the house in Cleveland Ohio was the same week that The Girl in the Basement was released by Morris Publishing Australia.

What is the appeal of writing for young adults?

Many books for young adults published more recently have been fantasy and/or sci-fi, and are about dark themes such as vampires, dystopian societies and so on. As a reader I am more interested in the world as it is now so I don’t bother with these genres. I think there are many young adults who want to read about how fictional characters negotiate the kinds of problems they are faced with in their lives. Reading social-realism is not just living vicariously, it’s also about seeing solutions and seeing that there can be hope when life seems grim and nobody is listening. My other YA novels are The Last Refuge (Hodder Headline) about domestic violence victims and Crossing the Line (Ford Street Publishing) about a girl who is in care and who becomes obsessed with her psychiatrist. I suffer from bipolar so have experience of being in psych wards (nowadays I’m sane because I’m medicated).

How do you avoid covering old ground when you have written so many books?

Crossing the lineI rarely cover old ground! I have been writing and getting published for over 30 years and I’ve never run out of ideas. I don’t just write novels for younger children and teenagers: I also write non-fiction (including a few textbooks), joke books, poetry and verse anthologies, plays, articles, short stories, even an (unpublished) adult novel. My husband (YA award-winning author Bill Condon) and I make a living from full-time writing and have done so for years. Both of us write a 40-hour week each. Over the course of a year I submit upwards of 100 manuscripts to publishers (with a success rate of 15 to 20%).

What are you working on right now?

Lately I have been writing novels for young readers aged 8 to 10 years. The latest is A Game of Keeps (Celapene Press) about a foster child and I’ve just sold two other junior books, one to a small publisher, another to a major publisher. Currently I have a few projects. I’ve just had a junior novel To the Moon and Back assessed by a professional freelancer who has suggested many ways to improve the text, so that’s my writing project.

I am also in the process of proof-reading A Beginner’s Guide to Better English (Five Senses Education) to be published later this year. This week I have resumed editorship of Buzz Words (All the Buzz About Children’s Books)  which I founded in 2006; it’s a fortnightly online magazine for people in the children’s book industry. At the moment I am doing a lot of admin work with the generous help of Vicki Stanton who has done a sterling job at the editing helm for a few years while I took a break. There are hundreds of subscribers, so I am wrangling my computer skills to try to implement everything. I am also finding new content for the first issue I put out on 15 October. If anyone wants a free sample, they can contact me at Buzz Words. 

Thanks to Dianne Bates for giving us an insight into her work.

Visit again soon for more interviews, book news and reviews. Happy reading until then.

Julie Fison

 

 

Competition Winner Is Announced

The competition to WIN a copy of Betrothed and Allegiance by Wanda Wiltshire as well as a handmade bookmark made by the author recently closed.  Fans and would be fans of the Betrothed series had some moving entries and pledges to very worthy causes.

Wanda and I discussed each of the entries before declaring Ashlee Taylor as the winner!

Congratulations Ashlee!!

Here’s Ashlee’s pledge of allegiance:

I pledge my Allegiance to the children all around the world without families, children that starve everyday, children that are hurt during a war they have nothing to do with. I pledge my Allegiance to them because no one else does, someone needs to stand up and help them through the pain the are feeling, show them the light in life that they don’t see. Show them that there are people that care about all of them, every single tiny soul deserves a chance in life.

The prize pack includes these two books from Australian author Wanda Wiltshire
The prize pack includes these two books from Australian author Wanda Wiltshire

Ashlee, please email Jon Page ([email protected]) with your postal address and your prize will be on its way to you soon.

Thanks to all those who entered and of course to Pantera Press.

You can read a FREE extract of Betrothedhere.
You can read a FREE extract of Allegiance here.

The There’s No More Vampire Academy Books Mourning Period Is Almost Over!

Vampire AcademyIrony is finding out that after months of moaning and moping about (and subjecting others to it) that there’s a new book coming out in the series you desperately love, then realising that you will neither be in the country when it’s released. Nor will you—even if you somehow manage to get it into your hot little hands—have the time to read it. Gah!

For those of you who will be available and keen to read such a title, news has it that there will be a new Vampire Academy book available in less than three weeks. Yep, as of 23 August the There’s No More Vampire Academy Books mourning period will be over.

Or at least, it’ll be over until I’ve finished Bloodlines, which will realistically take (once I get hold of it) about a day. Then the There’s No More Vampire Academy Books mourning period will recommence.

It will, of course, also be temporarily be replaced by I’m Overseas Working My Patootie Off And Unable To Get Hold Of An English Version Or Even Find The Time To Read Said Book If I Had It moaning. And a strictly enforced technology black out as I attempt not to inadvertently read some massive plot spoiler, such as ‘OMG Dumbledore is dead?!’

Replace ‘Dumbledore’ with ‘Dimitri’ and the scale of shock is the same (arguably even larger, with heartbreak thrown into the mix). But that—spoiler alert—has already been done in this series. Surely it can’t happen again. Can it?

The plot so far revealed to us is as follows:

Blood doesn’t lie. Sydney is an alchemist, one of a group of humans who dabble in magic and serve to bridge the worlds of human and vampires. They protect vampire secrets—and human lives. When Sydney is torn from her bed in the middle of the night, at first she thinks she’s still being punished for her complicated alliance with dhampir Rose Hathaway.

But what unfolds is far worse. Jill Dragomir—the sister of Moroi Queen Lissa Dragomir—is in mortal danger, and the Moroi must send her into hiding. To avoid a civil war, Sydney is called upon to act as Jill’s guardian and protector, posing as her roommate in the last place anyone would think to look for vampire royalty—a human boarding school in Palm Springs, California.

But instead of finding safety at Amberwood Prep, Sydney discovers the drama is only just beginning. Bloodlines explores all the friendship, romance, battles, and betrayals that made the #1 New York Times bestselling Vampire Academy series so addictive—this time in a part-vampire, part-human setting where the stakes are even higher and everyone’s out for blood.

I know. It’s guaranteed to be spring break meets vampires. Any money there are jokes at vapid American high schoolers’/High School Musical’s expense. Any money there’s a hot human love interest for Jill and/or Sydney. That and that Dimitri and Rose simply must make an ass-kicking appearance—after all, they’re the best and the ones we fell in love with.

You’ll find out first how accurate or otherwise these predictions are, as I’ll be overseas working insane hours and being torn between wanting to hear your verdict and not wanting to know anything at all. Before you mention it, I’ve considered the ebook option. The work time constraints have already kyboshed that. No really, I’ve already been explicitly told not even think about bringing a book I want to finish as there will be no time for reading and maybe not even much for sleeping.

I’ve tried to score myself an advanced review copy from Penguin so I could tackle it before I go, but they clearly don’t deem me large enough fry to warrant one (or even an email reply). They clearly don’t realise how many people I’ve rabbitted on to about it (even my friends’ boyfriends and husbands are completely aware of who Dimitri is). Instead, I’m going to ask you a favour. Come August 23, can you please make sure you don’t tell me the plot, but do tell me if you’ve enjoyed it?