Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas from the Raven


About this time next month What the Raven Saw will be making its way into stores all around Australia. This is very cool and I can't wait to hear what people think of the Raven and his delicious attitude (the Raven hates Christmas but he can't pass up the opportunity for people to admire him as a Christmas Greeting, so he consented to his image being used).

The latest news on What the Raven Saw:

* It has a new cover. I loved the old one but I think the new one is very striking and I love the focus on the Raven (he likes it, too).

* ASO, amongst others, have already put in an order. The publishers and I spent some of December doing up the teaching notes for What the Raven Saw. I am really happy with them and hope that they enable kids to have lots of cool discussion. There can never be too much talk about the Raven (in his opinion)

* The first review has been published. I came across it by accident but it is from a lovely children's literature reviewer and I absolutely love everything she has to say, because she seems to have got everything I was trying to do with the book. Read it here: 1st Raven review

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

First published in 2011

If you can, try to get the illustrated version of A Monster Calls – it makes the whole book a beautiful little volume to keep and really enhances the dark themes and emotions present in the book. They mimic the kind of twisted, bitter thoughts present in Connor’s mind, but overall just appeal to the idea of darkness. I think they were haunting and beautiful.

This book is dark. It is raw, it is unflinching and honest, and for all the magic realism present in it, it is a very real story. I knew what was coming – I think that it is clear what will happen from the start. But I did cry, and not even just because the writing was beautiful or it was really tragic – but just because it feels very real and laid bare. Even if you can’t relate to Connor’s sadness, and the reasons for it, I think it is easy to apply those feelings on a personal level, because as they are written they are simple and totally accessible and there is nothing forced about them.

I really loved the idea of the monster calling on Connor. I actually found the monster rather funny with his deadpan lines and how he totally discredits all of Connor’s outbursts. I thought he was kinda cool. I wouldn’t mind if he came calling on me. The ‘monster’ element is actually a really lovely, unforced example of using magic or fantasy to enhance a contemporary story – the two parts work together seamlessly.

Another aspect of A Monster Calls I really enjoyed is the way it uses the importance of stories – stories to occupy our minds, stories to cast light on our own lives, and stories to create beauty out of chaos. Connor may not like the stories the monster tells him, but he cannot deny their importance in getting him to the place he needs to be with his mother.

A Monster Calls is not a story I absolutely love or would hold dear to my heart, but it is a very special story and a beautiful idea. I think many people would cherish it as an emotional attachment - it might be one of those books that ‘gets’ them.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Talina in the Tower by Michelle Lovric

First published in 2012

Michelle Lovric is one of my favourite children’s authors working today.  I have been a big fan since I read her first children’s novel The Undrowned Child – her story-telling skills are top notch. Talina in the Tower, like Lovric’s two books before it, is written with imagination, intelligence, humour that snaps and loving attention to Venice and its history. If you truly want to escape, her books are your means to.

Talina in the Tower is set in late nineteenth-century Venice. It is described with gothic flare; on the brink of disaster and inhabited by frightened people and even more frightening creatures. I really enjoy Lovric’s cast lists. Talina is populated with vultures, sarcastic rats, cat gangs, Ravageurs (think evil, malformed wolves) and human characters even more quirky and strange than the creatures roaming about all around them. All Lovric’s characters have this gorgeous pantomimic quality this is endearing rather than over-the-top. I am actually jealous of some of the amazing character creations she comes up with. She obviously takes great joy in crafting their dialogue and it is fantastic stuff.

Talina is along the Teo mould from The Undrowned Child: wilful; clever; impudent, temperamental and brave. She has a huge heart and is wonderfully resourceful. I love girl characters like this. She is the perfect character to go on this adventure with. I also love how Lovric can so easily make ‘evil’ characters multi-faceted with just a few paragraphs.

The story is plot-heavy and full of twists and turns. It is dark and doesn’t shy away from barbaric or mature themes. But this is where Lovric’s wonderful humour kicks in. She has a great knack for capturing peripheral action, and there are some brilliant asides and observations from characters who are observing the main action (the story is told in third person). She also makes Venice and its history alive and interesting, and manages the perfect balance of fact and fiction. It took me a while to open up the book, because I knew how dense Lovric’s books can be (in a good way). But once I started reading Talina I was hooked.

If it sounds like I’m raving it’s because I am. Lovric has some of the best children’s writing out there. I only wish my own books reach the same imaginative highs as hers.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

PW Best Children's Novels of 2012

Publishers Weekly have just published their list of best children's books for 2012 here: click here
As it is an American site, there are some books I am not familiar with but a big yes to some of their other picks.

The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann we got as a proof copy in my bookstore. It looks all kinds of weird and wonderful and that's what I love in children's writing - the absolutely innovative, written well with an emotional impact.

In a Glass Grimmly by Adam Gidwitz is a book I am not familiar with, but I LOVE the sound of it. Will be checking this one out.

Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses by Ron Koertge - as you might be able to tell, I love anything fairytale-ish, whether it reworks them, takes an idea from them, or remodels them. This one sounds like a treat.

The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan - love that an Australian author can get into an American list of best books for 2012. The worlds Margo creates are breathtaking, as is her prose, and this book (Sea Hearts, as it is known in Aus) has been on my 'to read' list for ages.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer. A great premise, well told and interesting, with a paranormal romance element that doesn't make me groan.

Apart from these there are some great picks from authors by the likes of Libba Bray, Rebecca Stead and Sheila A Nielson, whose book Forbidden Sea I greatly enjoyed. Go check it out and then go check out some of these great stories - it's a great list.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Promo material for Raven

Had a visit at my bookstore today from the Random House sales rep. He is officially selling What the Raven Saw into bookstores this month, and I got to have a look at some of the promo materials. They are looking absolutely gorgeous, and every time I see the beautiful cover work or indeed even the title of my book, I cannot describe how amazing it is.

I love the raven and his story, of course, but when I hear about others getting excited too and all the positive feedback, I just cannot wait until the raven is in stores inflicting his bad temper on everyone.

Got to know a few of the things I will be doing to support the book as well, and it is all just brilliant. I'm really looking forward to have the opportunity to talk to kids not only about my book but also about my love of children's books in general and how important reading is! I will update of course closer to the date of these things happening.

Any questions about the book please shoot me an email. We are getting some fabulous kid's books in store this month, in the lead up to Christmas, and I will be writing about those soon too.

Happy reading!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

What the Raven Saw cover

My children's novel What the Raven Saw now has its own page at my publisher, Random House. Link below. Lots of exciting stuff happening with the book which I will update on in the future. In the meantime I am still trying to frantically steal minutes here and there to get my second manuscript to a presentable state. This one is set in the 1890s and the research to get everything accurate, while totally fun and engaging, is big on the time consumption!

What the Raven Saw at Random House

Ghost Knight by Cornelia Funke

First published in 2012

Ghost Knight is cute and fun; a great story for both girls and boys with just the right mix of humour, genuine thrills and a positive message. Jon moves to boarding school and finds himself the victim of a band of ghosts intent on killing him for revenge, because they have a long history with Jon’s family lineage. With the help of his new best friend Ella, and the ghost of a noble knight with a debt to fulfil, Jon fights back and learns courage and humility in the process.

Fabulous settings – a boarding school, old cathedrals, haunted moors – this is the stuff adventure stories are made of! All of it is based, of course, on real places and people – Salisbury Cathedral in England, the knight William Longspee, and numerous other references dotted throughout. You can tell Funke loves the material she is working with, and is also having great fun with it. This is fabulous because it helps the book steer away from being a dry history lesson masquerading as a story. Ghost Knight is genuinely quite creepy and your heart will pound right along with Jon and Ella as they race from place to place, trying to stay one step ahead of the ghastly spirits.

Ghost Knight has plenty of funny moments – a lot of it silly, and a lot of it coming from Jon’s distaste of his mum’s new boyfriend, ‘The Beard’. This is humour that never tries too hard and is quite charming, and Jon’s dry asides help to alleviate the more thrilling moments so that younger children will not get scared.

The two central characters – Jon and Ella – are wonderful, and their relationship at that exact age I love – where they go from the ‘I Hate Boys/Girls’ stage to realising there might actually be some attraction there. Jon does have a little crush on Ella but the two form a lovely friendship and a strong bond. Ella has a bit of Hermione in her, and Jon just a touch of Ron, but together they are a great team and it is nice to see this in children’s books. Peripheral characters are strong too, whether they are human or otherwise – well-rounded and lacking ‘cariacture’ qualities.

Most of all I love how this book is presented – it is a gorgeous little volume and the black and white illustrations are some of the best I’ve seen in a children’s book – gorgeous, informative, and totally enhancing the story. I found Ghost Knight to be a real winner and would recommend it whole-heartedly to the 8-11 age group.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Night Beach by Kirsty Eagar

First published by Penguin, 2012

It was important to me, that this book be brilliant. Kirsty’s Raw Blue is still one of the best YA books I’ve ever read. Night Beach covers similar territory - teen angst, identity, the beach, very Australian. I was so ready for her lovely writing, characters and story to sweep me away.

I admire the ambition of Night Beach. I think its gothic inclinations are rather beautiful – the imaginative ideas, the way they gel with the contemporary story. But I feel as if it wasn’t a successful melding, and I can’t really say why. I don’t know, I think it’s a mix of being a little too overwrought, a little too long, maybe even not feeling Eagar’s confidence with what she was doing. It might be that I think it all got a little indulgent? Whatever it is, I found (in the second half of the book especially) that it all got a little overdone and overworked, and all the single lovely things I’d enjoyed about the first half of the book all got a little eaten up by the complexities of the second half.

There are some Raw Blue moments that I really loved. Some of Abbie’s thoughts, the way the atmosphere builds and heightens, especially in a terrific scene that simply involves Abbie in her house, trying to walk upstairs. Wow. The gothic-flavoured moments of dread are electrifying. Of course, being a lover of the sea, I enjoyed once again the idea of Abbie drawing comfort from the ocean. Sometimes even I can’t explain my emotional connection to the sea, but hey, Eagar does it for me. She really gets that unknowable, sometimes terrifying power the ocean can have, and it heightens the atmosphere in the book.

I think Night Beach could have done with an extra edit. I would have liked to see all the little sub-plots (the baby-sitting, the Hollywood thing, her Dad and the new baby) tied together, or worked into the gothic narrative a bit more. The painting sub-plot is really the only thing that is worked fully and successfully into the supernatural elements. Also, the whole mystery surrounding Kane and the boys and what happened on the island – perfectly plausible, but I think I wanted something more.

I understood where Abbie was coming from; that deep, consuming ache for someone. But I wanted to shake her a little. I did find her a bit tedious at times; Carly in Raw Blue was full of emotional baggage but she was never, er, pathetic. But I understood her attraction to Kane, and I think her longing was captured realistically.

Hmm. An ambitious, unique, and frequently lovely book. Not 100% sold though.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What the Raven Saw sneak peek

Received the first page proofs for What the Raven Saw today. Just wanted to put up a sneak peek of the lovely illustrations that Tony Flowers has done (and also the gorgeous design). Can't wait till the book hits the shelves early next year - everyone at Random House has put in so much hard work and the result is mucho gorgeousness!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

First published in 2011, in Australia Sep 2012

Hmmm. Even without reading this book, I loved it. I saw it as a proof in my bookstore and grabbed it, flicked through a few really fantastic passages, and then took it home. As I read more and more, it lost a little of its appeal. All the little quirks that I started off enjoying began to annoy me, a tiny bit. It still held my interest. I still think it is a clever, mostly well-written and certainly unique book, but Where Things Come Back did lose me, just a little.

It was clever how Whaley tied the two main stories together, and all the other povs that are interspersed throughout. It made me want to keep reading, to see how they would come together, and also to see what he would do with all these non-linear timelines. He pulls it off. Stylistically, it is also clever to tie everything back to this idea of a small town going crazy for the appearance of the Lazarus woodpecker – to see how hope is a lovely thing, but it can also turn people a little crazy. The woodpecker is the symbolic heart of Where Things Come Back, and (from a writer’s perspective) I enjoy this kind of neat, simple, stylistic technique.

I thought this book was a case of the secondary, peripheral characters being the more interesting. I couldn’t warm to any of the main narrators. In fact, I think this is my main problem with the book. I didn’t really like anyone. And I don’t think it’s a reflection of their actual personalities, but the way they are written about – with a certain cynical, cold-hearted view. This book has warmth but it isn’t found in the characters, and that prevents me from caring. What I did enjoy was the way Whaley built up some characters, like Lucas and John Barling, so we formed an idea of them. And then he dropped a subtle bombshell which revealed all their hidden parts and motivations. The best example was when Cullen talks to John on the swing. Love moments like these.

I think the writing did show signs of this being a debut novel. It is very Dawson’s Creek. Full of emotion but in that cynical, referential way, that can be hip but is really, I feel, sometimes just disguised indulgence. It makes me smile the way people are always referred to by their full name. At the start I didn’t mind Cullen referring to himself in the third person but it does wear a little thin.

As for Cullen and his main crew – well they are so unobtrusively hip that it’s all pretty harmless. I can understand why some will love his cynical self. I felt all a bit blasé about it all. And I’m still not sure if the ending is real or not.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

First published in 1968

The Last Unicorn is one of my absolutely favourite books. I think Peter S. Beagle is one of the finest writers around – an absolute master of beautiful language, unique characters, imagination, warmth, humour and magical storytelling. He is one of those writers who can sum up grand emotion in a succinct, unique line. If you love fantasy and children’s books, then Beagle is an author who must be read. He has many fine stories – but my favourite is the very gorgeous The Last Unicorn.

I have a journal where I keep passages or lines from books that I think are particularly fine or moving – those lines that give you shivers – and The Last Unicorn features prominently in it. What he does best is write lines that illustrate loneliness and confusion; that really reach down into those emotions we keep embedded and tease them out of us. But these lines are never sappy or trying to be quote-worthy – they are often whimsical and silly and simple, but the resonance sweeps through all the pages. Beagle understands mortality, and people’s fears, and the many different guises with which they hide them. I love how he shows us the cracks in all his characters – he does it with such profound beauty and understanding.

The Last Unicorn may read like a fairytale – it has a princess and a prince; it has a quest and adventures through all the hidden parts of the world; it has a baddie and a beast, and it has secrets and a wicked adversary who is as evil as they come. Even just as this, it is a great story. But it is also very clever, and Beagle uses a tone that makes fun of it all but never snarkily, always with affection. There is a great sensitivity woven through all the pages and a sense of fun that subverts the genre even as it faithfully follows all the tropes.

One of the greatest things which keep The Last Unicorn rollicking along is that it is genuinely funny. The characters; the situations they find themselves in; the double-crosses; the human folly; the fabulous one-liners that flow so effortlessly. The pure, dazzling silliness of it all. My particular favourites are the talking skull and the magician Schmendrick when he is called upon to get himself out of a sticky situation or is making fun of everyone around him. His wit is legendary.

Which leads us to the characters in The Last Unicorn. They are all fabulous; nuanced; believable; entertaining; empathetic. I love the Unicorn and her motley crew – the lonely, sarcastic, jealous magician Schmendrick who cares too much; the bitter, no-nonsense Molly Grue with a heart of gold, and later, Prince Lir who believably and heart-breakingly emerges from a soft fool into a noble, hardened prince. The Unicorn herself, who is so brave and beautiful – but, for all her power, as full of doubts and weaknesses as her human companions.

But it doesn’t stop there. The baddies – most notably King Haggard and Mommy Fortuna – are glorious, complex characters who spit bitterness and hate but who, through a simple line from Beagle, reveal the fears and the insecurities that drive them to be so. And then all the other characters who float in and out of the pages – the talking cat, Captain Cully and Jack Jingly, the royal magician Mabruk, to name a few – are colourful, humorous creations, written with real warmth and imagination.

Imagination is where The Last Unicorn really wins for me. It is a wonderful concept in itself – being the last of your kind. The loneliness, the responsibility, the sadness in such an idea – I find this fascinating (which also tells me probably why I like Doctor Who so much – oh the adventures he has, but always and only ever, by himself). Everything that Beagle fills the pages with after this particular idea is just a bonus. The whole book just feels so graceful and enchanting – the kind of magic that you can’t shake off.

And really, it comes down to Beagle – his writing, his style. Read one of the first scenes between the Unicorn and a stray butterfly and you will understand something of his power. In this scene he uses words and ideas and emotions and weaves them together all so seamlessly, so powerfully, in the form of an erratic, dying butterfly. Brilliant. His writing is beautiful and effortless, and this, above all, is what makes The Last Unicorn such a triumphant children’s classic.

Previous entries, my fav Children's Books:

Number 20:  Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie

Number 19:  The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

Number 18:  Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

Number 17:  The Toymaker by Jeremy de Quidt

Number 16: The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber

Number 15: The Scarecrows by Robert Westall

Number 14: Watership Down by Richard Adams

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Farewelling Literary Greats

Great article from Publishers Weekly on those influential, fabulous children's authors we have farewelled this year. I love this article, not only for the sentiment, but because it highlights some truly important children's authors and their works - including one of my personal favs, SF writer Ray Bradbury.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Tiffiny Hall

Tiffiny Hall has been doing some promo with my bookstore (Book Bonding) for her new children's novel, White Ninja. I haven't read it yet but will defs have to check this one out. It is also part of the 2012 GET READING challenge and she will be touring nationally for it in the next month.

Tiff was great. As lovely as she is gorgeous. It was an absolute pleasure to meet her and sell her book to our school clients. I encourage everyone to buy a copy of White Ninja. It's a great story with a strong female character for girls, written by an awesome chick.

(That's us in the pic, btw)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Random House Bologna Children's Rights Guide 2012

Random House Bologna Book Fair Catalogue

The link is to a copy of the Random House Bologna Children's Rights Guide for 2012. I and my little book What the Raven Saw are featured on page 16. I love the Bologna Children's Book Fair and would love to one day attend, and so it's very exciting to be in the catalogue. Also featured are many other fantastic children's and YA authors, some of who I have met and can confirm that they are as awesome as their stories!!

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Golden Day by Ursula Dubosarky

First published in 2011 by Allen & Unwin

A strange novel that I can’t quite get my head around. Reading it feels like when you’re driving on a really hot day and the sun coming off the tarry road in front of you gives everything that hazy, slightly askew look, and it’s like you’re driving into a time warp.

The Golden Day is certainly immersive. The language, the world, the heat, the way Dubosarky writes of the girl-into-adult transition. If there’s one thing this book absolutely has, it is atmosphere. That sleepy, dreamy feeling when you sit in the classroom on a hot day – perfect. The excitement of young girls going on a slightly-naughty adventure – perfect. That feeling of dread and claustrophobia when things start to go wrong – perfect. It is exemplary when it comes to lulling you in. I’m just not sure what I felt when I was there – it really is like waking up from a nap on a hot afternoon – disconcerting.

The plot is thin. I had some understanding of the eleven schoolgirls, but only in passing. I couldn’t tell you much about them past their name, bar the main two – Cubby and Icara. Actually what I found interesting was Icara’s story – in fact even more so than the main mystery. Dubosarky does so well the moment when the truth about Icara is revealed and suddenly her whole characters fits together perfectly. A great piece of writing.

The disappearance of the girls’ schoolteacher is the main plot. But all the little by-stories leading into that feel kind of patchily put together. That being said, obviously The Golden Day is a book about growing up, and all the little things that slowly build into that transition. Throwaway lines from the girls, Cubby’s moments of revelation, the outside world fracturing the consciousness of a young girl just starting to learn about reality – all these things show us the sad and often fraught process of growing up. This is done well. I just couldn’t find the cohesion in the story. It kind of just did float away from me like a weird, sad dream.

But there is beauty to be found in it. Sad beauty. My favourite kind.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

First published by Random House, 2012

Seraphina is a gorgeous book. It has great complexity and luscious detail. The emotion is genuine and the characters are at the same time wonderfully eccentric and empathetic.  The world of Goredd is creative and interesting, and best of all, there are so many places it can be taken with future books.
In the realm of Goredd, a fragile peace has been achieved between humans and dragons. But the truce is shattered when a royal prince is brutally murdered. Our heroine, Seraphina, is drawn into the investigation and as she begins to uncover the dark comings and goings of the royal court, so too are her own secrets put at great peril. Seraphina does have a lot in common with other dragon-fantasy epics such as Eragon or an Anne McCaffrey or Robin Hobb. But the voice is wonderfully youthful and fresh and the dragon mythology completely original.
Rachel Hartman’s world is complex and I found early on I did have to persist. But, as is the way with most fantasy epics, all the different plot points and parts come together and the story starts picking up pace once the world has been adequately set up. Best of all, you become emotionally invested in the characters and want to see them through to the end.
Hartman has created some wonderful characters in Seraphina. Our heroine, Seraphina, is just the right mix of snarky, brave and vulnerable. She is smart, she takes action, nothing about her feels forced or put upon. The ‘love interest’ Kiggs also has many admirable qualities (and a dash of winning humour) that make him worthy of Seraphina. Secondary characters, such as Glisselda, Orma and Comonot, are the exact opposite of one-dimensional – there is so much going on with them and they support Seraphina wonderfully as characters.
The detail that Hartman puts into describing the court, the city, the mythology, and even the music, is opulent, and although there is a lot of it, it is the kind of intelligent detail that makes a book a classic. I really hope this series picks up as new books are released, because it really is wonderful writing and a rewarding, immersive world.
I thought Seraphina was absolutely fantastic. I loved everything about it.

Monday, July 23, 2012

What the Raven Saw cover

I apologise for my slackness in posting. I have just spent a very busy month doing writing and theatre-ish things and also moving house and now, at the moment, doing the final edits for my own children's novel What the Raven Saw.

I will be writing a lot more about What the Raven Saw soon, as it gets closer to publication on February next year.

But in the meantime just now I came across these lovely and exciting posts from Tony Flowers, who is doing the illustrations for the cover of my book. He has been making paper bird models which will then be integrated into the cover. I feel so honoured when I see all the work that has been going just into the cover of my book, and it makes me very excited for it to finally be out. I can't wait to have What the Raven Saw out into the world.

Here are links to the posts of his work so far - he is such a lovely and talented guy and I hope you enjoy.

Post 02: The Pigeon

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Forbidden Sea, by Sheila A Nielson

First published in 2010 by Scholastic

Lovely little story, with an old-fashioned feel to it that I rather enjoyed. I think for this reason many others may not enjoy it, but I found the time period it was set in really immersive, and the mer-mythology it was based around to have an appealing folklor-ish vibe.

The Forbidden Sea takes care to build up a complex history for lead character, Adrianne, and to give her cares and concerns outside being so utterly beguiled by her handsome love interest Denn, and falling in love with him. There is love, of course. But it feels less like the contemporary paranormal YA romance and more in the league of, say, Franny Billingsley. Because I love mythology and folklore, this appeals to me. If you like your teen para-love stories more contemporary, than perhaps you won't be as beguiled.

The Forbidden Sea has a little of the mystery I find so important for a story about mermaid/mermen. I just find these creatures so fascinating, most likely because the world they inhabit is so different and closed off to ours. This story goes a little of the way into giving merpeople a life away from, as I said, just being love interests. I also like how Nielson crafted Adrianne's interactions with the mermaid she thought was after her sister. It was a slow reveal. I love this. There was a palpable sense of being called to the sea -  yes, yes, that's what a mermaid story should be all about!

I do think Adrianne being 'so hard done by' was a little over the top, and yet the details of her family life were welcome and also done in a way that made me actually want to see her come out on top. It was a rags to riches story that I kind of knew would turn out alright in the end. But Nielson made it worthwhile getting there.

The writing was on the better side of some of the YA mermaid books I've read. I'm slowly making my way through all those mer books out there and The Forbidden Sea, so far, is one of my favs. I've heard it described as a fairytale Little Mermaid meets Cinderella. Pretty accurate. Like to see what Nielson writes next.

Monday, June 18, 2012

'Do You Come Here Often'

Link above to a nice little article on my one-act play that was recently a part of the Essendon Theatre Company's One-Act Play Season. I wrote and directed it - great cast, lots of fun, fantastic feedback, and awesome to see my words come to life on stage.

The script is now also available to perform for a small rights fee. I will put up details soon. All enquiries should be directed to my email.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel

So I recently found out that Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad is going to be made into a film by the Jim Hensen film company. What a great time to spotlight these gorgeous, classic characters and their adventures.

The Frog and Toad stories are first chapter books, intended for young children just starting to read on their own. The language is simple with lots of 'vocabulary list' type words, short sentences, and large writing. Half and quarter page illustrations accompany the text, depicting Frog and Toad in a lovely soft green/grey colour palette. I love the illustrations. They are a fantastic accompaniment to the text, and also very revealing of Frog and Toad's characters.

Of the two, Frog is the smarter one - outgoing and forward-thinking - while Toad is slightly more neurotic and grumpy, and quite reliant on his friend. But their friendship is gorgeous. I have a battered old copy of Frog and Toad Together, and I have always found Lobel so accomplished in depicting a multitude of feelings with so simple a vocabulary. The Frog and Toad books not only encourage kids to read on their own, but also introduces them to subtle messages and themes.

The main theme is, of course, friendship. But the short stories are packed full of virtues like patience, bravery, resourcefulness and appreciation. But Frog and Toad are not perfect. The stories also gently demonstrate how they suffer from folly, arrogance and greed - but never in an overbearing way, always with a lovely whimsical inclination. I love that a 'first reader' book can show characters with bad qualities and imperfections. And while the books don't excuse these traits, they do show that they are a part of human (amphibian!?) nature, and perhaps how to move past them with more positive attributes.

But of course, what is really so lovely about these simple little stories is the depth of Frog and Toad's friendship. I can always see them, together in the countryside, keeping each other company and going on adventures and it always makes me feel kinds warm and fuzzy and a little nostalgic. My favourite Frog and Toad moment is in the story 'The Dream'. Toad is dreaming he is a great performer on stage, and Frog is watching him. With each act of Toad's spotlight-hogging brilliance, Frog gets smaller and smaller until he disappears, and Toad realises what is really important is not that he is the greatest or best, or even better than Frog, but just that Frog will always be there for him:

"Come back, Frog," he shouted. "I will be lonely!"
"I am right here," said Frog.
Frog was standing near Toad's bed. "Wake up, Toad," he said.
"Frog, is that really you?" said Toad.
"Of course it is me," said Frog.
"And are you your own right size?" asked Toad.
"Yes, I think so," said Frog.
Toad looked at the sunshine coming through the window. "Frog," he said, "I am so glad that you came over."
"I always do," said Frog.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Of Poseidon, by Anna Banks

First published in Australia in 2012, by Hardie Grant

Of Poseidon is flirty and fun. There are some great lines and lots of cheeky humour to enjoy, which is always refreshing for YA paranormal romances. Sometimes the old teenage love story can take itself a little too seriously, so when one is written slightly tongue-in-cheek it’s very refreshing. Because we’re dealing with merpeople (or Syrena, as they’re referred to), the setting naturally revolves around Summer and the beach, which also helps to give the book a light-hearted, fresh feel (no gloomy boarding houses or icy, rainy forests here).
The stylistic choice of telling the story from two different perspectives (Galen & Emma) is enjoyable. It also helps to flesh out the male love interest – sometimes in paranormal romance they are reduced to looking gorgeous/brooding, and making heartfelt declarations of love. Not that this doesn’t happen in Of Poseidon, but reading about Galen’s home life, his people, and his world, certainly helps to give him some depth.
That being said, I don’t think it quite worked to have Galen in third person and Emma in first. This also does something weird to the tenses. The story feels interrupted, disconcerting, and a bit sloppy. Also I found that sometimes, especially in Galen’s parts, the narrative was a bit prone to info dumps. Yes, I certainly wanted to learn more about Galen’s world and the Syrena mythology, but it would be more seamless and ultimately involving if it was integrated into the story. Too much back story at once and I think readers are prone to just skimming over the info, and missing a lot of the interesting stuff.
I’ve learnt to take YA para-romances for what they are. Of Poseidon was a fun read. There were some problems. Once again, Galen is so beautiful it hurts. All the girls love him, but he is infatuated with Emma. Didn’t see that coming ;). There are some problems with their relationship – he controlling, she full of snarky attitude, but of course they can’t live without each other. The Emma-mother relationship was a bit off, but in the last chapter (nice twist, btw), it becomes clear why this might be so. Some plot points are slightly unrealistic and I got over hearing about how ‘special’ Emma is.
But there are positives too. The underwater scenes are really enjoyable. There is a strong lore that grounds the story – also clearly meant to build up events for future books. Secondary characters (especially Toraf and Rayna) actually have some personality – I found their relationship very sweet. Almost more interesting than Galen and Emma’s! Despite some problems, Of Poseidon has an entertaining flirty feel and worth a read if you love all things mer-ish.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Ted Goes Wild by Michael Wagner

First published in 2011 by Penguin

I love toys and teddies and dolls and especially when they all come to life. But Ted Goes Wild left me a little cold.

I found it strangely lacking in warmth and engagement for a children's first chapter book. I really wanted to care about Ted, because he's a cute little teddy that goes out having wild adventures and being brave and tough. But I just didn't.

The actual text I found a little flat as well; I found I wanted the descriptions and the dialogue to have more imagination. This is so important for a first chapter book. They aren't big on text, so imagination is high up there, or the writing perfectly pitched at the intended audience, or at least some kind of emotional resonance. For example, Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad chapter books are about as simple as they come, but something about those two old reptilians speaks to your emotions. I'm just not sure old Ted got there himself.

I did really enjoy the way it was designed - half told in text, half told in graphic novel. And Ted Goes Wild does have some nice themes about bravery and being resourceful and a child's attachment to their toys. I'm certainly attached to mine and I'm definitely no longer a child.

This teddy - not quite for me. But then again, you'd have to work pretty hard to knock Corduroy from his top spot in my heart.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Watership Down by Richard Adams

First published in 1972

I love this book. When I first read Watership Down (once again, a result of the fantastic children’s library at my old uni), it rose immediately to the top of my favourite books list and it has never really shifted. When I read it again recently, for the purposes of this blog, I was as hooked as when I read it the first time. None of the charm, the magic, was lost. I skipped gym classes because I had to keep reading. I was as invested and caught up in the story of Hazel and his rabbits as if I had never met them before. In fact I’d say Watership Down is one of the defining books that made me want to write my own stories for kids.

The level of invention here is inspiring. I feel like this book matters. And not just because of the supposed parallels between the world of Watership Down and what it might be saying about contemporary political and social states, especially at the time of publication. For me, the allegorical nature of the book has never been a deciding factor. All that stuff about tyranny and freedom, utopia and dystopia, the individual and the corporate state – yes, I can see where it might come from. But I don’t think Watership Down has these at its heart.

For me, it was always about the epic nature of the quest. I love a good journey story. I love all those epic themes of exile and survival and heroism and the banding together of all the character’s individual qualities to create something much larger than just a story about a group of rabbits. Watership Down has all this in droves. Every new scene, every new set-up, every new complication, is as compelling as the last. Who will make it through this time? Which rabbit will shine? What will be won, and lost?  I think Watership Down is far closer to Homer and Virgil than any political statement. This, for me, is where the book draws its power – by tapping into old myths and making the story about the heroes – who, in this case, just happen to be rabbits.

And what a fantastic bunch of rabbits. Out of the main bunch, we certainly get to know some more than others, but Adams still gives each rabbit a distinct personality, a quality, that enriches the story and the colony as a whole. I’ve always loved Bigwig. Who doesn’t? He is, quite simply, awesome. He is tough and no-nonsense and fierce, but also loyal and clever. He beats General Woundwort, mentally and physically. He has great spirit – I love his line: “silflay hraka, u embleer rah”. I also have a soft spot for Blackberry and Dandelion, and love that they get a chance to really shine in the final plan to defeat Woundwort. And the gull character – Kehaar – he is pretty awesome aswell.

And what I also love is that Adams, while clearly making Woundwort the enemy, does not make him a clear-cut evil character. Adams writes of him with admiration and dignity. He gives him reasons for being the tyrant he is, he makes Woundwort brave and clever and strong. At the end he is defeated, but there is the sense that he hasn’t really lost. And what a great choice to turn him into a ‘bogeyman’ (bogeyrabbit?) character at the end, still capable of frightening and drawing-into-line when need be.

I also love me some antrhomorphised characters. I love when an author can take a distinctly non-human character, and make them so familiar and so compelling. Adam’s rabbits live in their natural environment and do very rabbity things, but Adams gives all these rabbity things a very human reasoning. I love that they have their own language, culture, and mythology. It is fascinating. The figure of El-ahrairah (a sort of folk hero), looms large, and the inclusion of his many feats and tricks (as told by Dandelion) serves the main story well.

I also love Watership Down because it is so seamlessly plotted. The seeds of many events are planted chapters and chapters before; a small detail can pack a lot of meaning and interest the first time it is given, but then later on it will come to factor in such a large way and the pay-off is so rewarding. And none of it is clunky. Just clever and brilliant. And the love Adams had for the English countryside is also apparent, too.

Personally, I just think Watership Down is near perfection. The narrative is compelling on its own – both emotionally and suspense-wise. But then you add in how consistent, comprehensible and enthralling Adam’s world is, and the scope of it all is of the finest quality. Watership Down has my heart. You will never meet a more awesome bunch of rabbits. An absolutely beautiful story.

Previous entries, my fav Children's Books:

Number 20:  Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie

Number 19:  The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

Number 18:  Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

Number 17:  The Toymaker by Jeremy de Quidt

Number 16: The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber

Number 15: The Scarecrows by Robert Westall

Monday, April 23, 2012

Pure by Andrew Miller

This is not so much a review as a brief rave about how brilliant and beautiful I think this book is. Pure is my favourite read this year so far. For me, it was one of those books that you wait and hope to come across, that makes you realise how incredible writing and language and books can be.

I have read some reviews that expressed slight criticism because Pure isn't really big on plot or narrative drive. For me, this didn't even factor. I was so immersed and intrigued in the world Andrew Miller created, and so taken in by his beautiful writing, that I kept returning to the book at every available moment.

There is simplicity here, but also gorgeous, breathtaking descriptions and reflections. Yes, the book does pretty much cover the methodical destruction of Les Innocents, but it is so fascinating. And without anything of great distinction actually happening, a palpable sense of dread and atmosphere builds and builds. This book is earthy but at the same time has a refined elegance. It is humane, with the large and small fallibilities and fancies of people laid out effortlessly on the page. It has a lovely optimism while still retaining an authentic feeling of despair and disillusion.

The historical detail, the philosophy, is there, but it is all mixed into a much greater idea that concerns the workings of the human soul. The ordinary is made beautiful and alive.

This is literary writing at its loveliest. I thought Pure was dazzling and I was utterly enchanted by it.