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Monday, April 29, 2013

Interview With Samantha-Ellen Bound

Introducing Samantha-Ellen Bound, debut novelist, whose children's book What The Raven Saw has come out this year from the Woolshed Press, Random House Australia!

GR: Tell us a little about yourself - your background, your interests, what you do for fun when you're not writing.

SEB: I grew up in Tasmania and moved to Melbourne straight after I finished school. Reading, writing, and creating stories have been a huge part of my life ever since Kindy. My other big love is performing arts – you can often find me on stage pretending to be someone I’m not, or teaching dance. To chill out I love travelling, the beach and any kind of water sport. 

GR: I see you've done a Diploma in Publishing and Editing - was there any writing involved? What, actually, DID it involve?

SEB: There was lots of writing involved, but none of it was fiction! The Diploma was all about the ‘other’ side of publishing – the editing, proofing, design, marketing, financial side etc. Basically everything that goes into the creation of a book. I did it because I had an interest in the process of book publishing, and also because I wanted to refine my writing skills with the editing component. The Diploma helped me to wise up about getting my own book published – I knew exactly what to do and where to go and what to expect, and I loved all the guest speakers that would come in every week to talk about all the aspects of book publishing.

GR: Do you feel that either this course or your work as a children's bookseller has helped in your writing? If so, in what way?

SEB:  Absolutely; I didn’t want to be a writer who had written a book and then had no idea what to do next – studying publishing meant I had all the tools to make it easy for myself to get my book out there. And by studying editing I now have a far greater knowledge of how to put a book together, and how to improve my writing. My work as a children’s bookseller has been an inspiration and a great source of knowledge. It really ignited the spark that made me want to get my own book on the shelves.

GR: Where did your idea for What The Raven Saw come from?

SEB:  It was actually rather random – I saw a raven sitting next to a weathervane at my local church and around him this story began to emerge. Some parts of What the Raven Saw were short stories before I tweaked them a bit and put them into the novel.

GR: At which age group is this novel aimed - and did you have any beta readers of that age reading it before publication?

SEB: My intent with What the Raven Saw is that readers of all ages can enjoy it – that it has themes, humour and ideas that are universal. All my favourite children’s books have a maturity to them that deepens your appreciation as you get older. But my target audience would be late primary school – the 9-12 age bracket. Yes, my publisher did get primary and teen readers to read it and some schools even did activities based around the story (designing a cover etc), all before Raven came out.

GR: The landscape is very English, with its churchyard and the fields and even a scarecrow (one with an unusual accent!). Where were you imagining when you wrote it?

SEB: I didn’t intend the story to be connected to a particular country or place – it could be anywhere, or any place. You may notice that the characters all have different accents and ways of speaking, and I like this crazy kind of mish-mash. That being said I have spent a lot of time in country Australia, around a lot of lovely old churches, and this probably inspired me a bit. I suppose the setting is rather English but I like that it’s never outright stated where the story is set.

GR: I notice that the chapter names are taken from hymns or other religious songs. What is the thinking behind this? 

SEB: The title of each hymn (and if you listen to the songs, also the content) reflects what happens in that chapter, or the mindset of the raven in that chapter. At the start of the book the Raven can only really express emotion though the gospel songs and how they make him feel, so the chapter names reflect that. I love gospel songs myself, and so I really loved that I could incorporate them into the book.

GR: Actually, there are a lot of references to music in the course of the novel. Were you listening to anything in particular as you wrote?

SEB: I love music and have been singing since I was little (sometimes badly), and I think music is an important, fantastic and creative way to express emotion. I hope that comes across in What the Raven Saw. I would listen to the gospel songs or hymns as I wrote the novel (only very quietly though, otherwise I find it too distracting, because I start paying attention to the song rather than what I’m writing!).

GR: There seems to be a solid background to the relationship between the raven and the priest, as if there has been something written about them before, in your short stories, perhaps. Have you ever written about these characters before? If not, would you consider doing it?

SEB: The scenes between the raven and the scarecrow, and the scene with the man in the tree, were both short stories before they were in Raven. The raven and the pigeon also made an appearance in dialogue-writing classes at uni. Obviously I loved the raven character and kept using him! I had never written anything about the priest and the raven before – but I did want them to feel like they were old friends (actually the priest is the raven’s only friend for a very long time!).

GR: Do you have a favourite character? If so, who and why? A favourite scene?

SEB: I really love the raven. When I see a raven in the street now I always watch him to see if he might be my raven. I love that the raven is a mammoth grump but ultimately lovable. But all the characters in What the Raven Saw are very special to me, and they all have qualities that made writing about them a joy. My favourite scene is probably when the raven and the pigeon meet the scarecrow – I think the scarecrow is the character that has the most impact on the raven.

GR: How did you celebrate the sale of your first novel?

SEB:   It’s quite funny; you work so long and hard on one novel, and every few weeks or so there is a new development and it becomes an ongoing process, this sale of your book. And when the publication date finally comes around it kind of feels like just another logical step – although I do keep an eye on my book at work – always face-out!! I think the celebration was more internal – getting a children’s book published has been one of my biggest dreams since Kindergarten, and I was very happy and proud when it was both accepted for publication and then released. It is a great confidence booster that hard work and belief in yourself pays off.

GR: What are you working on now?

SEB: My second standalone novel is written and being given an edit at the moment. I have just written a short play, How Can We Help, which will be performed at the Essendon Theatre Company in June. But my next project, which I am so excited about, is a children’s series called Silver Shoes – it is set in a dance school called Silver Shoes, and told through the eyes of four of the dancers there – Eleanor, Ashley, Riley and Paige. It is for a mid-primary audience, and all about dancing – not just ballet. I love it because I get to combine two of my biggest loves – writing and dancing.

Thanks for dropping by The Great Raven, Sam-Ellen! 

If you would like to follow Samantha-Ellen's blog, she can be found at the Book Grotto

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Alien Onion- Another Fabulous Web Site!

I don't know why it has taken so long, but I have just added to my list of links to interesting sites the delightful Allen and Unwin children's section blog, Alien Onion. It's not the standard dry information site designed merely to let you know what the company is doing, but a lovely bit of waffle and chatter that reflects the relaxed and laid-back style of the Allen and Unwin offices. The current post is by publisher Erica Wagner, who remembers how she almost started working for them earlier than she did, and speaks of sharing a trestle table with then-publisher Rosalind Price.

I have a soft spot for these guys; they published three of my books, including the very first, Monsters And Creatures Of The Night. Well, the first two are out of print(although you might still be able to buy them through ABEBooks and one blogger told me he had lost his precious copy of Monsters and bought a new one through an online bid!) and the third is POD, so you can buy it but have to order a copy. BUT - I still feel a part of the family. They treat me as a family member. And they are a family, with staff who have been there for years.

I remember reading a post on someone's web site speaking of a visit to a huge publisher office in New York, getting lost in the vast HQ. You couldn't get lost in the A&U office in East Melbourne. It's a terrace house.

My main relationship with them these days is reviewing and the Silverfish Reading Group, where my book club students get to read manuscripts, but I feel very comfortable with them still and who knows? I might yet sell them another book!

Meanwhile, I do recommend the Alien Onion blog. Go check it out!

Interview With The Wild Girl, Kate Forsyth

Kate Forsyth is the author of a large number of wonderful novels, mostly for children and young adults and, more recently, for adults as well. Bitter Greens, her Rapunzel novel has been shortlisted for both the Aurealis and the Ditmar Awards. The Wild Girl (reviewed on this site) is too new to be up for any awards as yet, but I will be very surprised if it isn't on someone's list next year, perhaps a Premier's Award?

Kate very kindly agreed to be interviewed and a fabulous interview it is. Welcome to The Great Raven, Kate!

SB: You're best known as a children's/YA writer, but your last two books have been for adults(although The Wild Girl might *just* wriggle under the YA/NA fence). First question:  do you intend to keep writing for adults or, like Catherine Jinks, do some stuff for adults, but mostly continue with books for young readers?

KF: I love writing for both adults and for children, and so in an ideal world I’d like to alternate between them. I am working on a 5-book fantasy adventure series for children right now, which will be published next year, then I am contracted to write another historical novel for adults. I try as much as possible to build my writing schedule around my family’s needs, and so I’m always thinking ahead, deciding what year would be best to do which project. For example, my eldest son will be doing his final school exams in 2015 and so I will choose a smaller, easier project to focus on that year. I have so many ideas for novels its always simply a matter of deciding between them.

SB: As well as being for adults, your most recent books - Bitter Greens and The Wild Girl - have had fairy tale/fairy tale teller themes. What has particularly interested you in this area recently? 

KF:  I have always been fascinated by fairy tales and fairy tale retellings since reading them as a child. Many of my books draw upon the structures and symbols of the genre, and I first studied them academically in my first degree. I knew I wanted to retell the Rapunzel fairy tale from the age of 11 or 12, and thought about the idea off and on for years. Eventually all that thinking led me to the writing of ‘Bitter Greens’.  The idea for writing ‘The Wild Girl’ sprang out of my research for that ... Ii often happens that way – researching & writing one novel throws up ideas for the next.

SB:  How did you get the idea for The Wild Girl? 

KF: When I was first thinking about Bitter Greens, I imagined a frame tale in which someone – perhaps an old woman – would tell the Rapunzel tale to someone else – perhaps one of the Grimm brothers. I wanted to tell Rapunzel as a historical novel, not a fantasy … I wanted it to feel as if it might really have happened, as if it was – perhaps – true. I thought Rapunzel had been told to the Grimm Brothers, you see – that it was an oral story recorded by them. However, once I began researching the sources of the tales, I discovered that the Grimm story had a literary source and had, in fact, been written by the 17th century noblewoman Charlotte-Rose de la Force. It was during that research that I stumbled upon the beautiful, heart-breaking love story of Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild, the young woman who had grown up next door to the Grimms and who told them many of their most famous fairy tales. I knew at once I had to tell their story. I had to put it aside, however, and focus on the novel I was then working on, which was Bitter Greens.

SB: Bitter Greens was a very complex read, with three streams - the stories of Charlotte-Rose, Margherita and Selena, intertwined. You could have stuck to either the story of Charlotte-Rose, as straight historical fiction, or the adaptation of the fairy-tale itself. Yet you did both. Why?

KF:  I always felt the greatest challenge to rewriting such a well-known tale was creating suspense and surprise, the two ingredients I think are most vital to a compelling narrative. Everyone knows the basic storyline of Rapunzel and everyone knows how it ends (happily ever after). I needed to find some way to make the story fresh and new and surprising. Even shocking. I also wanted to have three narrative threads, three points of view, so that I could braid them together in such a way that the structure of the book would symbolically reflect the braid of hair, the key motif of the story. I knew from the very beginning that I wanted to tell the story from both the maiden and the witch’s point of view, but who could be the third important character? I played with writing a section from the POV of the prince – in fact, I wrote about 20,000 words from his POV – but then I felt instinctively that this was a women’s story, and I wanted to know who had told it. I began to research the sources of the tale, and that was when I first stumbled upon the extraordinary tale of Charlotte-Rose de la Force … and of course she became my heroine, my primary protagonist, simply because her true life story was so dramatic and so fascinating.

SB:  What's your favourite way of doing historical research? On-line, for example? Books? Both? Do you use a lot of primary sources? 

KF: I begin by reading everything I can find on the subject. I create a library, usually by buying masses of books, both new and second-hand, I need to own the books, as I’ll go back to them again and again and again. I will research on the internet too, basically to create a solid base of knowledge, and to identify what else I need to know. I take copious notes, keeping track of what I read where and when, so I can find it again. I also read as many novels as I can set in the same time and place as my own novel – I’ll read everything from classic novels to historical romance and historical murder mysteries to memoirs, biographies and scholarly non-fiction. I want to know everything! My research will throw up ideas for my story, and will also help me create the milieu – the setting and the inner life of the characters. I’ll also read as much primary material as I can – with ‘Bitter Greens’ I read many letters and memoirs of the Sun-King’s court to help me find my ‘voice’. I also paid to have many of Charlotte-Rose de la Force’s own writings translated into English for the first time. The internet is also great for visual stimulation – I look at photos and portraits and maps and I print them out and stick them in my notebook. 
When my first draft is almost done, I’ll travel to the places I have featured in the book. I like to see the setting, and hear it, and taste it, and smell it. I like to imagine the emotional reaction of my characters, and test for myself how long it might take to walk from one place to another, and so on.  For me, this is an important part of the process.

SB: Tell us about the research you did for The Wild Girl.

KF: I began by building a time line of the key years, and assembling my cast of characters, and finding out everything I could about them. The Grimm brothers are extremely well-documented but the life of Dortchen Wild, who became Frau Wilhelm Grimm, is nothing but a footnote in history. I found out what stories she told Wilhelm, and when, and I looked at what clues the stories gave to her inner life. I read everything I could find on the Grimm brothers and their lives – dozens of books – and then I studied society in Germany in the early 19th century, and life under Napoleon. That took ages! I hired a German translator and researcher to help me, as many of the key academic studies have not been translated into English.  All the time I was building the story, planning my plot-line, assembling my key thematic symbols and structures. As I wrote, I’d need to do more research …and my plans would change and evolve. I travelled to Germany for a few weeks close to the end of the first draft, and visited all the key places in the book (the ones that hadn’t been bombed to smithereens in the Second World war). I also read a lot. Jane Austen was a contemporary of the Grimms, and so I read all her books again for the umpteenth time, trying to get a sense of the times. I read Goethe, and the works of the German romantic poet Novalis, and some of the letters of Beethoven, and of course I read the fairy tales, studying the earliest transcriptions and all the later variants, and I corresponded with many top Grimm scholars. I was lucky enough to read Wilhelm’s own diary, never before translated into English, and Dortchen’s memoir, dictated to her daughter on her deathbed. I could go on and on and on – this was a very research-intensive book – but  I don’t want to bore you!

SB: You have written a lot of fiction set in your own universes - how much connection did they have with our own world? The universe of The Starthorn Tree series, for example?

KF: I think fantasy must always be strongly rooted in the real, and so when I am writing a fantasy novel, like The Starthorn Tree, I always have a strong sense of where it might stand in our own history. I think of the world of Estelliana, the world of The Starthorn Tree, as being very like central Europe in the early 15th Century. The world of the Witches of Eileanan is like an alternative 16th century Scotland.  This means I know whether they have invented spinning wheels yet, or cannons, or lead-paned glass, or corked bottles of wine, and I know what they would wear, and what musical instrument they might play. I always try and create as vivid and real a world as I can, regardless of whether I am writing historical novels or fantasy, and knowing these things can really help.

SB: What do you do for pleasure when you're not writing?

KF:  I don’t think you’ll be surprised to hear I’m an avid reader. I read a lot! I also love to cook and garden and dance and swim in the ocean, and spend time with my loved ones. And I love to travel and have adventures.

SB: So, what are you working on now?

KF:  I’m working on a fast-paced fantasy adventure series filled with dragons and unicorns and all things fantastical, and I’m busy studying for my doctorate  on Rapunzel. As soon as I’ve finished that, I’ll start researching a new historical novel for adults, which retells the Beauty and the Beast, and is set in Nazi Germany.

Wow! That sounds worth looking forward to! Thanks for visiting The Great Raven.

If you'd like to find out more about Kate and her books, her web site is at:

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Free ebook on Amazon

Recently, I won a free book on English Historical Fiction Authors blog. It was At Drake's Command, an historical novel by David Wesley Hill, and is an adventure about Drake's second circumnavigation of the globe, when he said he was going on a trade voyage to Egypt, but was off pirating against the Spanish. Well, privateering is what they call it when you do it with your government's approval and his government certainly made a profit out of this voyage!

The story is seen from the viewpoint of Peregrine James, a boy who has recently joined the crew as an assistant cook. Personally, I think it's YA, but the author says he couldn't sell it as such. I am thoroughly enjoying it so far, and you can do the same, and you can tell me whether you think it's YA or adult. If you have a Kindle or a Kindle app, you can get the ebook free right now. It's free for April 16-17( for me, it's the 17th, but if you live in the northern hemisphere, it may still be the 16th.

Here's the link:

And here are pics of actors who played in the TV series many years ago, John Thaw as Drake and Paul Darrow as Thomas Doughty.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Bone Chime Song post

In case you missed it the first time, here's a link to Joanne Anderton's Great Raven guest post on her now Ditmar-listed story:

A fascinating glimpse of how she thought of the story! 

She is an amazing writer! 

Chronos Shortlisting - Yay!

This morning I woke up feeling awful. I went to work yesterday with the start of a horrible cold and simply couldn't go in today; you really can't teach if you can't speak well.

I opened my email as usual, though, and while I couldn't do anything about the throat, the sniffles or the coughs, I felt much better. There was an email from Edwina Harvy, co-editor, with Simon Petrie, of the wonderful anthology Light Touch Paper Stand Clear, which is up for a best collection Ditmar. There were two shortlisted stories from the anthology up for a Chronos, Victoria's answer to the WA Tin Duck Awards - Adam Browne's Steampunk tale  The D-d and my own story, Five Ways To Start A War.

I would like to thank anyone who nominated my story and helped get it on the shortlist. And thanks to anyone who nominated either of the oters, which aren't there, but nice of you anyway.  Much appreciated! This is only the second time anything of mine has got as far as a shortlist, though I have had two CBCA Notables, and that was plenty exciting! The other shortlisting was for my book Crime Time:Australians Behaving Badly, which scored a Davitt shortlisting the other year, for crime writing. It was never going to win, among all those non fiction books for adults. But it was nice to be recognised.

If you'd like to read my story, it's part of a collection of Chronos eligibles I whipped together - check it out on the side of this page. That version is only in ePub, but I can send a PDF on request, for Kindle or just for your computer.

If you'd like a taste of Adam's story plus all the others in that collection, there's another link here o the Peggy Bright a books web site, where a free sampler is available in ePub, PDF or Mobi.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Interview With Susan Green

Last year, I was sent a copy of Susan Green's The Truth About Verity Sparks to review for Sisters In Crime. It is not only a mystery, it has touches of fantasy and goes into the Victorian fascination with spiritualism and seances, and it was short listed for a CBCA Award. Also, I found myself on a panel with Susan at SheKilda, where I discovered she had also written books for Dolly Fiction many years ago. Here she is, to tell us more about herself and her writing. Enjoy!

GR: Tell us a bit about yourself - your background, what you enjoy doing when you aren't writing, where you live.

SG My mother was a teacher and later, school principal, and my father was an artist. I have two older brothers. We lived in Chelsea, a Melbourne suburb on the bay, and our back gate opened directly onto the beach. Then when I was 7 we moved for 3 years to Castlemaine in Central Victoria. I spent a lot of time in the bush – actually, in the local cemetery, which was near our house. I loved the Castlemaine area, hated leaving and always wanted to return. Lucky me, I have.
It was an idyllic childhood in many ways, but the teenage years…? All that angst! Books were the great escape. They still are. When I’m not writing, I work part-time in the local bookshop. Apart from that, I’m fairly domestic - I am pretty slapdash at them, but I love cooking, gardening and especially knitting.

GR: when did you realise you were a children's writer?

SG: I was late learning to read (in fact, had to repeat Preps) but as soon as I could – around the age of 7-8 - I was hooked and I wanted to write books too. The Secret Seven series by Enid Blyton were my first great inspiration.

GR: What was your first book? Tell us about it and how you came to sell it.

SG: My first book was a picture storybook called The Possum Charmers, published in 1987. It was a joint effort with the illustrator, Stuart Billington. It was due to sheer luck and short-sightedness that it came to be published. I was trying to find a seat on a crowded train home to Castlemaine but without my glasses, it was a struggle. A man patted the seat beside him and we got chatting. He and his wife were having a picture storybook published by Greenhouse Publications and they’d just been to see their editor. I told them about my story and they gave me an introduction to her.

GR:How did you celebrate your first sale?

SG: To tell you the truth, I don’t remember, but we were both very excited and happy.

GR: You once had a gig as a Dolly Fiction writer - how did this happen? (And which one was it? I bought some of the Dolly Fiction books for my school library and there were some big name writers doing it under pen names!)

SG: I wrote 5 in all. Is He For Real?, So Hard to Leave You, The Worst Best Year, The Summer People and Runaway Girl. My Dolly name was Suzanne Lennox – Lennox is my middle name. My editor for the picture storybooks asked if I’d like to make some money. The answer was yes! For Dolly Fiction titles, authors were paid a flat fee instead of royalties. I think it was around $4000, which seemed like a fortune. I enjoyed writing them; I learned a lot.

GR:Who, if anyone, influences your writing style?

SG: I’m not sure – the true answer is probably every writer I’ve ever read, even the ones I didn’t like much. For example, when I was 12, I started to re-write The Magic Faraway Tree because though I loved the story, I thought it wasn’t very well written!  In my work for children, I try to write prose that makes you want to keep turning those pages…

GR: How did you get the idea for The Truth About Verity Sparks?

SG: I was walking in East Melbourne and looking at the Victorian architecture – you know, the columns and fancy mouldings and ironwork and stone. Those buildings told a story all about power and money and class. I began to think about what the city would have seemed like to a child, especially a working class one. How you’d have to be very strong not to feel overwhelmed and ground down. The character of Verity just insinuated herself in to my mind from that beginning. She almost told her own story. It was definitely one of the easiest books to write.

GR: What kind of research did you have to do for that novel?

SG: I read a lot - lots of books and websites about Victorian London. There were so many things to find out about – transport, manners, shops, servants, fashion…as a milliner’s apprentice, Verity is very fashion conscious. I found myself investigating topics like plumbing and hot water services for Verity’s first ever bath. I love research because I’m always getting ideas that move the plot along. For instance, a book called The Ghost Hunters Ghost by Deborah Blum, about the Victorian obsession with life after death, sparked the fictional Society for the Investigation of Psychic Phenomena. I love using visual aids too, and I pinned up illustrations by Gustave Dore showing the 1870s London slums. I also used paintings by James Tissot of wealthy Victorians to help me with the Plush family, and actually ended up making Tissot and his doomed mistress Kathleen characters in the story.

GR: How did you celebrate the novel's CBCA short listing?

SG: We flew over to Adelaide for the awards. I had lunch with my editor, Mary Verney and with Bob Graham, another prize-winning Walker author/illustrator. Then my husband and I had a weekend at a B&B in Angaston in the Barossa. When we ventured outside early on the first morning to admire the mist over the dam, I managed to lock us out of our B&B. We were just wearing our PJ’s and it was very, very cold. We laugh about it now.

GR: I see there's a sequel - can you tell us about it? And when it will be out?

SG: The sequel is called Verity Sparks Lost and Found and it will be released on May 1st. It’s about Verity’s adventures in Australia. She, along with Papa, SP, Mrs Morcom, Judith and Daniel, travel to Australia and settle in Melbourne. As the story starts, Papa still wants her to be a perfect young lady. But that’s not our Verity… Even though she feels she’s lost her gift, she manages to solve a tricky mystery when she’s briefly at a posh boarding school. Then she and her new governess tackle an investigation for the Inquiry Agency in Mount Macedon. I won’t spoil the mystery -  but I will say that I just love an insanely complex plot.

GR: Are you working on anything right now?

SG: No. This is the first time in more than 8 years I haven’t had a book on the go. I’m taking a short holiday in Canada in May. There was a whisper at Walker Books about maybe another Verity, so perhaps when I get back from my trip I’ll start jotting down one of the plots that I’ve got floating around in my head.

Thanks for visiting The Great Raven, Susan!

The Truth About Verity Sparks is available in your favourite book shop now and keep your eye out for the sequel!

Vale Graham Davey!

If you have been following this blog since last year, or if you went with me to the YABBA Awards (yes, you, Thando, Ryan, Selena, Kristen, though poor Dylan missed out that time) you will remember my mention of Graham Davey, the President of YABBA, the Young Australian Best Book Awards, the one the kids get to vote for. I first met him by phone, when I applied for my school to join YABBA. He had been doing this for twenty years, according to the YABBA homepage, as a volunteer. It would have been an enormous job even if he was getting paid for it, but he did it as a volunteer! His day job was as a storyteller, which I can easily imagine him doing with that rich, beautiful voice.

I posted about last year's YABBAs here. It was a wonderful day and when I asked Graham if I could come both as a teacher and a writer, he said of course I could, and there was not only a table for me and a slot in the program, but a beautifully designed slide with my books on it in the presentation.

And a few weeks ago, when I spoke with him on the phone, he told me to check out the video from last year, where there was a snippet of my student Thando speaking. That was thoughtful of him.

I'm only sorry that my students missed out on the YABBAs for so long. This year, I had them nominate books for the short list. "Is Andy Griffiths Australian, Miss?" I said yes, he was,but they had to nominate a book that hadn't won before, and this might be difficult. "Is John Flanagan Australian, Miss?" Yes, I assured young Rakibur, he is. I think one of them nominated something of mine; he shooed me away when I walked past him at the computer. It was to be a surprise. ;-)

The YABBAs will continue and they will be wonderful; that is Graham's legacy. But we'll miss him at these events. We'll miss him a lot.

Damn! We are losing far too many wonderful people!

Hostage Three by Nick Lake. London: Bloomsbury 2013

“It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing: a girl on a yacht with her super-rich banker father; a chance for the family to heal after a turbulent time; the peaceful sea, the warm sun . . . But a nightmare is about to explode as a group of Somali pirates seizes the boat and its human cargo - and the family becomes a commodity in a highly sophisticated transaction. Hostage 1 is Dad - the most valuable. Amy is Hostage 3. As she builds a strange bond with one of her captors, it becomes brutally clear that the price of a life and its value are very different things . . .”

Hostage Three definitely has a dramatic opening, with Amy standing on the ship, about to be shot, one of those openings that draw the reader in immediately, before going back three months, before all this started. Amy has just completed school, but has been automatically failed due to misbehaviour. Her mother had committed suicide during a bout of depression and Amy blames herself for having missed the clues. Her banker father is absent a lot of the time on work-related trips and now he has married again; her misbehaviour is an attempt to grab his attention. But there isn't an info dump or exposition; you get a little information here, then more in the course of the novel, just as much as you need at any one time, so that it builds up a substantial portrait before the end - and the final pieces fall into place after the main drama is over. Nicely done!

Despite the dramatic opening, this is not a white-knuckle thriller. The family is always in danger, so the tension is there, but that’s not the main point of the story. The trip was intended to heal the trauma and, ironically, it does, but not in the way expected. There’s this attractive young pirate, you see, Farouz.  Farouz, however, has his own tragedy, part of the constant wars in his country. As the young couple share their troubles and their memories, both begin to heal, but the ending won’t be quite as simple as in the average YA novel. 

I found the organised nature of the piracy fascinating. The Somalis, Farouz explains to Amy, had been fishermen until their fishing grounds were wiped out. Piracy has become their new local industry. He himself is the son of teachers, but he needs the money from this to get his innocent brother out of prison, where he, too, is being held for ransom.  

It's not what we think of when we hear the word "piracy". There are wealthy sponsors of the raids. The spoils are shared out so much per crew member, so much for the sponsor, so much for the families of any pirates - or, as they call themselves coast guards - who die. Any pirate who does the wrong thing during the course of the hostage situation is fined; the hostages are important to their captors and they won’t harm them unnecessarily. 

I did wonder why the heroine had to be half-American. She and her family had been living in London for several years and it didn’t really add anything to the story, except it’s convenient for the purposes of a scene set in Mexico. It wasn’t vital, though. 

It took me a while to begin this book, which I probably wouldn’t have chosen if I hadn’t received it for reviewing, but it’s a good, easy read and, once begun, it took me very little time to finish. 

If you want a novel that reads like an adventure, but has a little more depth, this is a good one to try.

Recommended for teens from about fourteen up. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Another Bookshop Bites The Dust

Once, there was a bookshop called Space Age Books, which was the gathering place for Melbourne fans for many years. It was in the Melbourne CBD and as we all know, that's not a cheap place to have a shop of any kind. It closed, after many years, although eventually there was another SF bookshop there, Slow Glass, run by a gentleman who had worked at Space Age. That, in its turn, became the gathering place for fans, but the rent tripled and it closed, the owner moving to the suburbs, although he now does most of his sales online.

Another bookshop, Minotaur Books, moved from an arcade to a big shop in Bourke Street to an even bigger one in Elizabeth Street, where it remains to this day, as a "pop culture" shop. You can still buy SF and fantasy there, if you don't mind paying more. But it focuses on comics, SF related knick knacks, games, DVDs, manga. All rather expensive and I, at least, don't feel as if the folk there are fans themselves, except perhaps comic fans.

Likewise, a shop I loved, in the suburbs, Alternate Worlds, became a media, games and comics shop, with very little I want to buy.

But there was another shop, Of Science And Swords, whose owners and staff were fans. You could discuss spec fic with them and get recommendations and if they didn't have the book you wanted, they would order it in. They moved from their little arcade shop to larger premises. I had bought lots of stuff there, but not been in for a while, unable to get there on time after work.

I went to the snazzy new shop today, only to find that they, too, had been unable to pay the rent and have moved online - so far, only a Facebook page, and as I refuse to have anything to do with FB for now, that is that for me. No more Of Science And Swords, just another "pop culture" store on the site  - only there aren't any books at all in it. Besides, it was the browsing and the discussion and the careful selection of a book I mightn't have heard of that I loved about the place. Buying online means knowing what you want - or think you want. Not for me!

I will have to go into the suburbs where, thank goodness, there is still a fan-run SF shop, Notions Unlimited. But how often? It's in the outer suburbs. I will have to make the decision to go there, not wander in after work to see what new goodies have arrived. And it has to b n the weekend, as it takes too long to get there after work.

Still, it's there - and it is set up very much like Slow Glass Books was... very promising!

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Added to "Interesting Web Sites" - ASIM Blog!

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine now has a brand new blog, run by member Amy Gordon, though I am keeping it going for a few days while Amy does her exams. I have added it to the list of web sites on the side of this page, in case you want to wander over and check it out. The last couple of posts feature an interview with wonderful artist Anna Repp, who has done art for ASIM over the years,both  internals and covers,  and an offer of a free sampler of Ditmar-short listed anthology Light Touch Paper Stand Clear, in which I have a story, "Five Ways To Start A War"  - yay! - and which also features a story short listed in its own right, "The Bone Chime Song" by Joanne Anderton, which  has already been re-published in its very own anthology by Fablecroft. There's a bit of every story in the anthology in the PBB sampler, not just the first few pages of the book, and it has the real cover of the book ( which, now I think of it, is up for a best art Ditmar!) Yay again!

The CBCA Shortlist 2013

The theme this year is "Read Across The Universe".

And here it is, this year's short list. Congratulations to those on the list. 

Here is a link to this year's Notables:

Sorry, but I couldn't get those copied and pasted and some of them were on the short list anyway. I am very pleased to say that Ford Street's anthology Trust Me Too, in which I have a story, got a Notable in the Younger Readers category, though I personally would have put it under Older Readers. It's very disappointing that two of the Ford Street titles entered, Ships In The Field and In The Beech Forest, both reviewed on this blog, didn't even get a Notable. In The Beech Forest is illustrated by Den Scheer, a young woman who is going to become very well known, and one day she will mention in an interview that her first book didn't get into the Crichton Awards for new illustrators. Well, Animalia did make it to the short list but didn't win; the book that did is long forgotten, while Graeme Base continues to rake in the sales, for this and others that have been published since then. Sorry, judges, I know you worked hard and read hundreds of books, but IMO, you got it wrong in this! Perhaps, as I have heard, it was a matter of one vote - and I don't think the Crichtons have a Notable section.  There were some wonderful books that missed out, but that happens in every competition.

I will have to buy at least the Older and Younger Reader books for my library. We have Sea Hearts and Friday Brown in the Older Readers and Pennies For Hitler and After in the Youngers. I've read Sea Hearts, of course, am still reading Friday Brown,  and have After on my iPad. That's a beautiful book, like all the others in that series that began with Once, and our students have been borrowing all of them enthusiastically, from Year 7 students who read the others in primary school, to Year 10 boys who read and loved Once for English Literature Circles in my Year 8 class.

Some of the short listed folk are friends (hi Doug!) or Twitter buddies (hi Vikki, Margo!). And Vikki came to my school once, with the State Library's Teen Booktalkers. She gave a very interesting talk about how she put together her first novel, All I Ever Wanted, and it helped that she has art talent as well as writing!

Interesting to note that three of the five Eve Pownall non fiction books were published by a non-publisher - Art gallery, museum, National Library. Alas, very few regular publishers are buying non-fiction for children these days; it's very hard to sell these books in bookshops, which have no idea how to present them in such a way that buyers will find anything in particular. Allen and Unwin tried, very hard, twice, with True Stories and the It's True! series. They were wonderful books and my school is trying, right now, to get as many of them as possible for our literacy program, but they're out of print, although you can still get some of the books, such as my own Your Cat Could Be A Spy, as POD. I wrote the only non-fiction book for Ford Street, on commission, but it hasn't earned back its advance due to some stuff-ups that happened between distributor and bookshops and then, once it did get to the bookshops, it was put in the adult section. Yet kids LOVE non-fiction. Only recently, two Grade 6 children visiting my school made my day when they approached me to say how much they had enjoyed Crime Time

I will have to get students, perhaps book clubbers, to help me read the short listed books and perhaps blog about them or interview the authors.

Book of the Year: Older Readers
These books are for mature readers
Grant, Neil  The Ink Bridge Allen & Unwin 9781742376691

Lanagan, Margo  Sea Hearts Allen & Unwin 9781742375052

MacLeod, Doug   The Shiny Guys  Penguin Group 9780143565307

Touchell, Dianne  Creepy & Maud  Fremantle Press 9781921888953

Wakefield, Vikki  Friday Brown Text Publishing 9781921922701

Zail, Suzy  The Wrong Boy  Black Dog Books, Walker Books Australia 9781742031651

Book of the Year: Younger Readers

French, Jackie  Pennies for Hitler Angus & Robertson, HarperCollins 9780732292096

French, Simon  Other Brother Walker Books Australia 9781921720833

Gleitzman, Morris After Viking Books, Penguin Group (Australia) 9780670075447

Hartnett, Sonya Children of the King Viking Books, Penguin Group (Australia) 9780670076130

Herrick, Steven Pookie Aleera is Not my Boyfriend University of Queensland Press 9780702249280

Millard, Glenda Ill. Stephen Michael King The Tender Moments of Saffron Silk HarperCollins

Book of the Year: Early Childhood

Allen, Emma
Ill. Freya Blackwood
The Terrible Suitcase
Scholastic Press, Omnibus Books
Cox, Tania
Ill. Karen Blair
With Nan
Windy Hollow Books
DeGennaro, Sue
The Pros & Cons of Being a Frog
Scholastic Press, Scholastic Australia
Dubosarsky, Ursula
Ill. Andrew Joyner
Too Many Elephants in This House
Viking Books, Penguin Group (Australia)
Harris, Christine
Ill. Ann James
It's a Miroocool!
Little Hare Books, Hardie Grant Egmont
Walker, Anna
Scholastic Press, Scholastic Australia
Intended for children in the pre-reading to early reading stages.

Picture Book Short List 2013 (arranged by illustrator)
Brooks, Ron
Text: Julie Hunt
The Coat
Allen & Unwin
Goodman, Vivienne
Text: Margaret Wild
Omnibus Books Scholastic Press
Gordon, Gus
Herman and Rosie
Viking Books, Penguin Group (Australia)
Lester, Alison
Sophie Scott Goes South
Viking Books, Penguin Group (Australia)
Mullins, Patricia
Text: Glenda Millard
Lightning Jack
Scholastic Press, Scholastic Australia
Wilson, Mark
Text: Jackie French
A Day to Remember
Angus & Robertson, Harper Collins
Intended for an audience ranging from birth to 18 years range (Some books may be for mature readers).

Eve Pownall Award for Information Books Short List 2013
Cheng, Christopher & Jackson, Mark
Walker Books, Australia
Kerin, Jackie
Ill. Gouldthorpe, Peter
Lyrebird! A True Story
Museum Victoria
Murray, Kirsty
Topsy-turvy World: How Australian Animals Puzzled Early Explorers
National Library of Australia
Queensland Art Gallery
Portrait of Spain for Kids
Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art
Weidenbach, Kristin
Ill. Ide, Timothy
Tom the Outback Mailman
Lothian Children’s Books, Hachette Australia

Crichton Short List 2012

Acton, Sara
Ben & Duck
Scholastic Press, Scholastic Australia
Battersby Katherine
Squish Rabbit
University of Queensland Press
Bowen, Dean
Written by Jennifer Castles
A Song for Lorkie
Allen & Unwin
Goh, Heidi
York's Universe
Windy Hollow Books
Okalyi, Sandy
Written by Doug MacLeod
Mozzie and Midgie
Working Title Press
Streich, Michel
Grumpy Little King
Allen & Unwin

So, anyone got any thoughts on this list? Please do share!