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Thursday, August 30, 2018

An Evening With... At Ford Street Publishing

Ford Street Publishing does these occasionally. They aren't too expensive and you get wine, soft drink and nibbles as well as listening to children's and YA writers. It's very much like the Booktalkers sessions which used to be held at the State Library of Victoria's Centre for Youth Literature. Those were great, but they were cancelled a few years ago, as being too expensive. A pity, but if you live in Melbourne, these sessions are worth attending, especially if you miss Booktalkers.

Last night's guest speakers were George Ivanoff, an old friend of mine through SF fandom, who is one of the few people I know making a living out of writing in this country, and Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood,  the three wonderful authors of Take Three Girls, which has just won this year's CBCA Award for Older Readers. Here is my interview with Simmone Howell about this book. I've met all three of them at one conference or book launch or another.

George speaks!

George spoke first, saying he had decided to do things differently this time, as it was for adults, not the kids he usually speaks to. He went through an entire history of his writing career(one which I know fairly well, having been friends with him). George is a jobbing writer who will have a go at whatever type of writing he is offered, so can make a living from it. Many of his 100-odd books are for the education industry, but he has been doing trade books as well in recent years. I'd like to add that it's George I have to thank for helping me get my current gig with Pearson!

George talked about his very popular "You Choose" books(basically, Choose Your Own Adventure, which he loved as a child) and read a snippet from one, inviting audience members to choose the direction they went. Of course, it ended abruptly, something I've noticed in the four "You Choose "books I've read! He showed how he plots them out on a whiteboard. I have to say, this kind of book is not easy to write. One of our teachers had a go at creating Choose Your Own Adventure books with her Year 7 class and admitted the experiment was a failure. George deserves the popularity!

Cath, Fiona and Simmone spoke about how they wrote their award-winning book. Not much I didn't know, because of having interviewed Simmone, but some things I hadn't known, such as how long it took, because of their other writing commitments. They pitched their idea to the publisher they all shared, then spent six years working on it! I'm thinking of the lovely Anna Ciddor, who spent about that much time on her short children's novel The Family With Two Front Doors, which was about her grandmother's family in 1920s Poland. The difference was that she didn't have a go-ahead from any publisher, she just did it because it was important to her, and then had several rejections till Allen and Unwin took it. 

Simmone(left), Cath and Fiona speak!

At one point, they asked if there were any secondary teachers in the audience and I was the only one to put up my hand(surprising, because a number of people bought multiple copies afterwards - perhaps they were only librarians, not teacher librarians). I didn't think any of them would see me, because where I was sitting, I couldn't see them(I had to stand up to take the above photo), but Fiona said, "Oh! It's Sue!"

After the talk, people were buying books from the small Ford Street stand, which also had some books by the guests published by others. I had already bought two of the Ford Street titles, and am looking forward to reading them. One was the Ford Street reprint of Isobelle Carmody's Alyzon Whitestar, the other was Time Catcher, a book by Cherie Peters, who was there. I had already read books by all four guests, long ago, so didn't stick around for the signing, but went out into the other room, where I nibbled and drank and chatted with people I knew, and some I didn't know. I spotted a man with an Irish accent talking to some people and realised he was the amazing artist Marc McBride, who has done quite a few Ford Street book covers, as well as some covers for anthologies I've been in.

Poet Jackie Hosking, who runs the Pass It On author newsletter, was there and said hi.  I chatted with a guy who had come all the way from Sydney for a writing mentorship and this session was part of the deal. There was a lady who told me she writes historical fiction for Pegasus publishers, and we got chatting about research.

I saw Emily Gale, an author I follow on Twitter, who apparently lives nearby and had been wondering what went on at Ford Street. I discovered she's British! Never knew this, but the accent was unmistakable.

Cath,  Fiona and Simmone had to leave fairly soon after they had finished their signing, but Fiona and Simmone stopped for a chat with me on their way out(Cath had to get to Avoca by a certain time). We talked shop. Simmone told me, to my surprise, that she had never received royalties. It must be something to do with the advance, which I suspect is larger than mine, but I haven't had much in the way of royalties since the GST came in and book prices went up, not even when every last copy of a 6000 copy run sold out(most of the books were sold through Scholastic Book Club, for which authors are paid peanuts). 

A little while later, George told me he was ready to go, so we went out to his car and he dropped me at home, as it was on his way. 

A very enjoyable evening!

Friday, August 24, 2018

My First Book Week Author Talk

This morning I went to my volunteer school, a primary school in Sunshine, to do my author talk for Book Week. It’s not the first time I’ve done an author talk, but the first time I’ve  done one for Book Week. I did it for free, because this school is a lot like mine, with many kids who come from families with no money, and I’ve had some freebies myself from generous friends, so... giving back. With luck I might get some paid gigs next year, at schools which hire me through a speaker agency. And I know now I can do it.

The school has no real school library, only a small annexe next to the Grade 6 classroom, and only the younger kids are able to use it, at lunchtime. The “classroom libraries” are not in the classrooms, but between them. Instead of a librarian, they have a woman who would be a librarian if there was any justice, the literacy co-ordinator, who does the usual literacy stuff, but also organises book purchases, Book Week activities, Scholastic Book Club and Premier’s Reading Challenge. She also has a writing extensions group for kids who love writing.

  If that’s not a librarian, I don’t know what is.

And she managed to get the whole school involved, something I have never been able to do. When I arrived this morning, the whole staff, including the office lady, were in costume. This year’s theme was Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, so most staff were dressed as Oompa Loompas. There were a couple of Willy Wonkas, some Golden Tickets, at least one teacher dressed as a Wonka Bar and some dressed as Charlie’s grandparents.

There was a competition for best classroom entrance. The winning entry was Grade 5, with a river of chocolate, but the Grade 4 entrance, which I photographed, was also pretty good, with a sign that this was an Oompa Loompa workshop, and some golden tickets and a cardboard cash register.

The kids and teachers gathered outside, under a large shelter, on a beautiful late winter morning, more like spring, for the Book Parade. There were tiny Spidermen, Storm Troopers, an adorable Wonderwoman, a few Willy Wonkas, a Cat in the Hat, a dragon and the general run of princesses in tutus, one of whom turned out to be the daughter of one of our former EAL students,  who startled me by calling out, “Hi, Miss! Remember me?” 

After it was over, I went to talk to the kids from Grades 3-6, in the multi-purpose room. The deal was, half an hour. That’s really enough and plenty for kids, just for a talk; they get fidgety after that. I asked the Grade 4 teacher, whom I know, to give me a wind-up signal when the time came, to save me looking at my phone. 

My original plan was to speak for about 15 minutes, then invite questions, but the adorable little Grade 3 kids, who were sitting at the front, started asking questions before I even started! I decided that with all those questions, I might be better off, and engage the kids more, by taking questions right away, then doing a bit of talking, then take some more. I also told them that if they had questions related to what I was talking about, they could put their hands up while I was talking. Which they did! And thankfully, I didn’t get asked about my favourite footy team or TV show, but mostly relevant and reasonable questions. There were a few “How old are you?” questions, which I avoided like a politician. 

One solemn young lady, a probable nerd, asked me what was my favourite genre! I answered that one! 
I remarked that I’d been told about their writing group and, in answer to another question, said that if you write, you’re an author, so we have several authors in the school. 

I got a question about whether I was famous and do you become famous if you write a book. No, I said, not really famous, and no, you don’t get famous just by writing a book. 

I handed out some of my mini-posters of the Crime Time cover for questions asked. I’d brought them as bribes in case the kids hesitated to ask questions, as they often do, but there was no problem. Hands were shooting up from the very beginning! 

Afterwards, kids who had missed out on asking their questions were coming over to ask them, and I handed out the last of the posters. 

And I had another pleasant surprise. One of the kids came over to tell me that she was the younger sister of one of my favourite library users. I remember her sister well. She was an EAL student(the younger girl has an Australian accent, but it was a long time ago). She read the entire Twilight series in four weeks, while still in EAL, telling me that she had figured out meaning from context(not using those words, of course!). She left us in Year 10, when she got a scholarship to an expensive private school she certainly couldn’t have afforded otherwise. I still, somewhere, have a bookmark signed for her by Gabrielle Wang, but she left before I could give it to her. We do communicate by email occasionally. 

Afterwards, I went to the staff room to write up my Ardoch stuff and mentioned it to a couple of staff who were there, both the young mother and the sisters. One of them smiled at me and said, “You never really leave Sunshine, do you?”

No, you don’t. That includes me! 

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

An Interesting Discussion Among Authors On Twitter

This morning, curled up in bed, I took part in a discussion I wasn’t expecting. George Ivanoff, author of about 100 books for children, said innocently that during one of his Book Week sessions he had been praised by a child for his courage in admitting to still playing that out of date game Pokémon Go. It was a throwaway line about being old when you’re still playing something that was hugely popular only a few months ago, but it led to a complete change of subject when Gillian Polack, historian, teacher and author of a lot of fantasy fiction centred around middle-aged Jewish women like herself said that she had been complimented on her courage for admitting to being Jewish!

Oh, dear, said poor George.

And then the discussion was joined by Gili Bar-Hillel, a lady who recently translated(and published) Christina Rosetti’s poem Goblin Market into Hebrew(I’ve seen the cover, by the way. It looks gorgeous! If you can read any Hebrew, it looks worth getting. My Hebrew is limited, but I do know the poem and am tempted.) Gili said she had been asked, without any intended malice, by some idiot in the US how Jews managed to get a substitute for blood these days when making matzah for Passover! And Gillian replied that right here, in 21st century Canberra, our capital city, full of politicians and public servants, there were people who were refusing her offer of matzah because they were vegetarian! Gillian is a historian. She gives them a history lesson.

For those of you who are wondering what she was talking about, it goes back to the Middle Ages, when there was something called the Blood Libel. That was a ridiculous story that Jews kidnapped Christian children at Passover to use their blood for making matzah. Ridiculous or not, it got a lot of Jews murdered, and it persisted for centuries. Chaucer’s Prioress used it. There was a man in late Tsarist Russia who was arrested for doing it. His story was told in Bernard Malamud’s novel The Fixer. In it, the man protests that not only don’t Jews use any blood whatsoever but his wife would throw out even an egg with a blood spot on it, despite eggs being so expensive. I read that novel when I was in Year 12. They made a film of it with Alan Bates, which was M Rated, so my friend Harvey and I had to get my mother to come with us.

I wonder if these idiots realise that early Christians were accused of the same atrocity, due to the “body and blood of Christ” thing?

Anyway, back to the discussion. I admitted I hadn’t had much of this nonsense, with the possible exception of a devout Christian colleague asking me, while we were heading for town, if we still did animal sacrifices. I nearly fell off the tram laughing. She was terribly embarrassed. I asked her where she had got that idea and she said in the Bible. I suggested she find something more up to date to read...

I told my author friends that I’d worked in the very multicultural western suburbs of Melbourne, with a lot of Muslim kids who knew who and what I am, and got on just fine with them. Not once did any of them have a go at me for being Jewish. There were great kids among them and horrible ones, like any other kids, but any hassles I had with those ones were related to mucking around in the library or in class. I must have been the first Jew they had ever met, too. Some Arabic speakers asked me, “Miss, how do you say ‘Hi’ in your language?” and squealed with excitement when I told them. It was almost the same as in their language.

Gillian said that in Canberra there was not much of a Jewish community and most of them kept quiet about it. She, however, uses Jewish elements in her classes. She is getting rather fed up with the ignorance of some people who should know better.

I am beginning to be very glad that I turned down that job in The National Lubrary in Canberra.

We did get back to George’s original  comment, by the way. I told him that I suggested to any kids who told me my clothes were out of date that they woul$ laugh if I dressed like them - and that in my opinion, a good game would survive, and I bet that somewhere there is a Space Invaders app, which kids are playing!

I have to admit, though, I was cringing just a little when George leapt from the car  when we arrived at last year’s YABBA Awards and followed some Pokémon being only his app could see...

Sunday, August 19, 2018

CBCA Winners 2018

I have a confession to make: this year I have only read two of the shortlisted books. Both were in the Older Readers. One of them won. The other didn’t even get an Honours listing, which is a pity, because it was a wonderful book. Now I will have to read the Honours books to see if I agree with the judges. I’ve interviewed authors of both books I have read - a link below to my interview with the lovely Simmone Howell about Take Three Girls, winner of this year’s Older Readers.  And since it missed out on a place on the list below, here is my interview with the delightful Vikki Wakefield, about her great novel Ballad For A Mad Girl!  If you’re like me and haven’t got around to reading them, now is the time to get cracking! 

CBCA Awards 2018 winners 

Older readers

Take Three Girls (Cath Crowley, Fiona Wood & Simmone Howell, Pan)

Honour books

Mallee Boys (Charlie Archbold, Wakefield Press)
In the Dark Spaces (Cally Black, Hardie Grant Egmont)

Younger readers

How to Bee (Bren MacDibble, A&U)

Honour books   
Henrietta and the Perfect Night (Martine Murray, A&U)
Marsh and Me (Martine Murray, Text)

Early childhood


Rodney Loses It (Michael Gerard Bauer, illus by Chrissie Krebs, Omnibus)

Honour books  
The Very Noisy Baby (Alison Lester, illus by Alison Lester, Affirm)
Hark, It’s Me, Ruby Lee! (Lisa Shanahan, illus by Binny, Hachette)

Picture book

A Walk in the Bush (Gwyn Perkins, Affirm)

Honour books       
The Great Rabbit Chase (Freya Blackwood, Scholastic)
Mopoke (Philip Bunting, Omnibus)

Eve Pownall Award for Information Books

Do Not Lick This Book (Idan Ben-Barak, illus by Julian Frost, A&U)

Honour books  

Left & Right (Lorna Hendry, Wild Dog Books)
Koala (Claire Saxby, illus by Julie Vivas, Walker Books)

Crichton Award for Debut Illustrator


Rovina Cai for Tintinnabula (Margo Lanagan, Little Hare).

Friday, August 10, 2018

Book Blogger Hop: Happiness Is A Good Book

This week’s Book Blogger Hop theme asks if your favourite thing to do is sit down with a good book.

Well, yes, apart from sitting down to write a good book...

Sit down, curl up in bed, sit on public transport, in the park, on the beach - it’s no wonder I have books in every room of my house, including the smallest one. When I get in the shower, I wish someone would invent a chip that would allow me to read there too. For someone like me, the inventor of the e-reader, which allows me to carry hundreds of good books with me at all times deserves a major award, or even a statue. Or several. The teacher who taught me how all those squiggles fitted together to make words has a special place in my heart. Here’s to you, Ms Easter!

What do I read when I’m reading?

Science fiction - hard SF written by the likes of Stephen Baxter, who also creates characters you can care about. Simon Petrie, who can write hard SF that is also a police procedural! Set on Titan, yet. Space opera/military, eg Lois McMaster Bujold, Tanya Huff and Elizabeth Moon, and straight military SF, like Gordon R Dickson’s Childe series, with his lovely Dorsai mercenaries who do it because there really isn’t anything else they can do on their poor planet. Interestingly, when I was reading them years ago they had more female fans than male ones, probably because of the wonderful Dorsai brothers, Ian and Kensie.

Fantasy - preferred funny, like Terry Pratchett, who thankfully never decided to be the clown who wanted to play Hamlet, unlike some children’s/YA writers I will not name here, who have disappointed me over the years. He knew who his audience was, and he could get across a serious message while making you laugh out loud. I am not crazy about multi-volume epics in which a couple of Elves, a long lost prince, a grumpy Dwarf and a wizard go on a quest - or, rather, a Quest. If the cover compares it to Tolkien, I put it down immediately - there is nothing like Tolkien.

Actually, I’m not crazy about multi-volume epics in general.

I enjoy crime fiction - cosy rather than thriller, some police procedural, historical crime fiction, such as Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January series, which are still wonderful after - what, twelve volumes? I love the earlier Phryne Fisher novels by Kerry Greenwood, but prefer the same author’s present-day Corinna Chapman series to the later Phryne Fisher stories.

Non fiction - true crime is great! Also historical non fiction - biographies, even of people I may not have heard of, if they sound interesting. I’m currently reading a bio of Lady Margaret Douglas, the daughter of Margaret Tudor, who re-married after the death of her husband, King James IV of Scotland. She must have regretted it, given the brawls she had with her second husband. She married again after getting permission for a divorce - or, rather, an annulment that allowed her daughter to be considered legitimate because she had married Hubby #2 in good faith. Pity Katherine of Aragon couldn’t do the same, but then she absolutely considered herself married to Henry. And by the way, Henry, who was himself trying to get rid of Katherine at the time, was shocked and kept writing letters urging his sister to stop being an embarrassment and go back to Mr Douglas. Pot, kettle, black. Lady Margaret also became the mother of  Lord Darnley, so the mother in law of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Also currently reading an intriguing book about the Nazi movement in the US before World War II. They had some ideas about Los Angeles in particular because of all the Jewish film makers. And the powers that be were mostly uninterested because they thought it was more important to focus on the Communist menace. Would you believe the awful HUAC started off as a way of investigating the Nazis? Not for long!

I also enjoy “history of” books. I have some fascinating histories of everything from chocolate to tourism. The tourism one is a hoot. And tourism has been happening since ancient times. I mostly get books like these at places like the Book Grocer, which sells discount volumes.

So, these are my good books to sit down with(or curl up with). What are yours?