Due to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.
Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.
One of my first interviews for this venture that I have called Isolation Publicity is an interview with Danielle Binks – literary agent, fellow book reviewer and author. Her debut novel, The Year the Maps Changed is due for release with Hachette on the 28th of April 2020, and I had hoped to participate in the blog tour run by AusYABloggers. As I wasn’t able to, I decided to interview Danielle about her new book, and plan to read it as soon as I can.
Hi Danielle, and welcome to The Book Muse!
1. How did you get started working in the arts and publishing industry, and what was your first job?
A: I was really lucky once I finished up doing RMIT’s Professional Writing and Editing course (and after a year of still-working in my uni job at the local post-office) an internship program came up with the Australian Publishers Association, for a paid internship at one of (I think?) five placements around Australia. There were two going in Victoria, and I nabbed one. That was my foot in the door – and luckily, after my six-month internship that indie publisher decided to keep me on! I was a publicist and editor for a few indie-publishers over about 3-years, before getting tapped on the shoulder one day by Jacinta di Mase … she’d read my freelance writing for Kill Your Darlings digital and liked what I had to say about Aussie YA in particular, and offered me a job working as a literary agent with her. I joined her in 2016 and have never looked back – even as being a literary agent never even crossed my mind until she offered me that opportunity, I now can’t think what else I’d rather be doing!
2. As a literary agent, what is it about a book that makes you go wow, this has to be published?
A: Chills. I can’t quite describe it – but there are just some books you read and, no matter how raw and unpolished the writing or ideas may be, there’s something in their delivery that just makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. It’s that X-factor that’s so hard to describe. But it’s the exact same feeling you have as a reader, when you begin a book and just *know* you’re reading the exact perfect story for this point in time, and you’re reading something that’ll be a new favourite. That’s what I look for as an agent too – to first fall in love with a story as a reader.
3. As I follow you on Twitter, I feel I should know this, but what is your favourite young adult or middle grade series?
A: Oh, gosh – ask me this same question next week and it’ll totally change. I’ve got to say, a series I keep returning to in YA is Melina Marchetta’s set in the Saving Francesca universe – that continued with The Piper’s Son and concluded last year with The Place on Dalhousie. I don’t even care that that’s a series starting in YA and gradually progressing to adult-fiction – I just love those characters, and reading them is like going home and catching up with old friends. I also have a deep and abiding love for Melina’s fantasy The Lumatere Chronicles trilogy, big love and respect for The Tribe series by Ambelin Kwaymullina, and The Grisha by Leigh Bardugo. In middle-grade, it’s gotta bet the American series Gaither Sisters by Rita Williams-Garcia (P.S. Be Eleven is pretty much a masterpiece). I also love the Binny UK-series from Hilary McKay.
4. I am yet to read The Year the Maps Changed and hope to do so soon. What inspired you to write this novel for the middle grade readership?
A: I hope you like it when you do! … I started thinking of this idea way back in 2016, when I decided to delve into this big Australian event that happened in 1999 called ‘Operation Safe Haven’ when our then-Government began the biggest-ever humanitarian exercise, of offering temporary-asylum to Albanian-Kosovar refugees of the Kosovo War and NATO Bombings.
For a long time I wrestled with whether or not to make the book YA or MG – I thought, I was known to be a big fan and supporter of young-adult literature, and back in 2016 (even though I consumed a lot of American middle-grade lit) the readership wasn’t as clearly-defined in Australia then. But what tipped me into deciding to go all-in on MG was the fact that in 1999, I was eleven going on twelve. So I decided my protagonist would be too; and once I made that decision it was so easy to remember what that age and year was like, and my protagonist – Fred – seemed to spring fully-formed in my mind.
Between 2016 and now, MG also really took off in Australia; Jessica Townsend, Nova Weetman, Jeremy Lachlan, Bren MacDibble, and Zana Fraillon (to name a very few!) all wrote these gorgeous and ground-breaking books that really carved out that space in Australia, so by the time Maps was ready it was very clear who the book would be for.
5. It feels like we’re in a Golden Age of Australian Middle Grade fiction at the moment from a reader and reviewer’s perspective. What do you think, as an agent, author and also, if you’d like, a reader as well?
A: I’m so glad you think that, because I literally just wrote an article for Books+Publishing about this very topic! And it’s an article following-up something I wrote in 2016 for them, called ‘Unstuck in the Middle’ which was kind of looking at how robust and plentiful the MG readership was in America (especially after a book like R.J. Palacio’s Wonder became a mega-bestseller) but how in Australia, everyone was still grappling with what it was and who it was for.
Now, MG has always existed in Australia (books by Leanne Hall and Barry Jonsberg, Morris Gleitzman and Ursula Dubosarsky spring to mind) but those books would often win awards, or get labelled as ‘junior fiction/kids books’ or ‘young adult’ – and there didn’t seem to be an acknowledgment of the spectrum that also exists for those trickier middle-years of (roughly) 8-12. But Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend and The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon really went a long way to defining modern MG in Australia (and at opposite ends of the genre-spectrum too) and carving out that space for the tricky in-between age-group. So many Aussie editors were aware of what was happening in America and the clearly-defined readership according to them, and the success of those books in Australia signalled them to just … go bananas and embrace! And they have. It was also things like ‘The Readings Children’s Book Prize’ acknowledging MG, and also The Text and Ampersand Prizes, putting a spotlight on the readership with their unpublished manuscript award-winners.
So it was a lot of ingredients that have gone into creating this ‘Golden Age’ of MG in Australia, for sure. And like most things … timing is everything.
6. Do you have a favourite middle grade author or series, past or present – or even both?
A: Gosh, look – I am a fan of contemporary fiction across all readerships so it’s the likes of Rebecca Stead, Jacqueline Woodson, Gary D. Schmidt, Nova Weetman and Emily Gale for me. All current-MG authors who I just adore and admire and I’m always on tenterhooks waiting for new books from them.
7. When you’re not reading middle grade, what do you enjoy reading, and what has been a favourite read recently?
A: Anyone who follows me anywhere, I hope, knows that I’m a HUGE romance-reader and fan. Everything from historical to paranormal; I just finished Kylie Scott’s latest romance The Rich Boy and loved it (it is adult though, not suitable for younger readers!) As an agent I’ve been lucky enough to get a sneaky-peek at Jenna Guillaume’s next book (the new stand-alone, follow-up to her debut What I Like About Me) it’s called You Were Made For Me and it’s so funny and romantic and brilliant. Think: Weird Science meets Jenny Han.
My go-to (adult!) romance authors are; Sarah Mayberry, Courtney Milan, Helen Hoang, Mhairi McFarlane, Lisa Kleypas, Sarah MacLean, and I’m hanging out for the TV series adaptation Bridgerton (based on Julia Quinn’s books!). I also have the sequel to The Royal We – The Heir Affair by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan – geared up on my Kindle, thanks to NetGalley!
8. What is your favourite festival, or do you have a favourite, and why or why not?
A: I went to Clunes Booktown for the first time last year, and that quickly became a new fave that I have to get to again! I’m also a big fan of The YA Room’s YA Day – just for the ingenious way they’ve found to bring the YA-lit community together in Melbourne, in a really lovely event that I hope continues to grow and thrive.
9. Do you have a favourite bookseller – which one, and why are they your favourite?
A: I have so many! Readings, Better Read Than Dead, Mary Martin, The Little Bookroom, Rabble Books, The Younger Sun, Avenue Bookstore, Antipodes … but my local independent in Mornington is Farrells and I love them so much (and they’ve been such a staple of my childhood, and now adulthood) that they even have a cameo-appearance in The Year the Maps Changed.
10. The important stuff: Cats, dogs, or both for a writing and reading companion?
A: Both! Always both! I have a very cat-like dog called Murray, so I feel he’s the best of all worlds.
11. Do you have a Hogwarts house, and which one would you be in if you attended the school?
A: Slytherin, baby. Cunning! … actually; whenever I take a quiz I literally end up like Harry and get a fair amount of Gryffindor and Slytherin in equal amounts. I guess it depends what mood I’m in.
12. Favourite Beatles song, and why?
A: I LOVE THIS QUESTION! I actually think it’s Blackbird for me. I just think it’s the most beautiful tune and poetic lullaby. And then it’s kind of a two-way tie for Hey Jude and Let It Be.
13. What is your favourite Jane Austen novel, and why?
A: Sense and Sensibility. Colonel Brandon. That’s it. That’s … everything.
14. Who played Darcy better – Colin Firth or Matthew McFadyen?
A: Laurence Olivier. Seriously: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=643d0KOkMl8
15. What inspired you to start working in the arts industry, and what did you study at university?
A: Let’s see – when I first finished high school I knew I wanted a job *writing* because that’s what I loved. So I had it suggested to me, that I should become a journalist. So I trotted off and did that at Monash within a Communications degree but I hated it – and was always being told to stick to WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE & WHY and not to give any purple prose. In my last year of study, we had to choose an internship within a publishing medium and I decided to do this crazy thing of seeing if I could try and work with kid’s books – which I did; scoring an internship at Black Dog Books (now, Walker Books) in Melbourne. It was eye-opening for me; this realisation that there are so many different areas of work in books publishing, and that I could maybe work within that industry too! So I went off and studies Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT, while also getting my own book-review blog Alpha Reader – http://alphareader.blogspot.com/ – off the ground as I delved further and further into books realms. That was it. Letting myself dream of working with books, reading more, and making that my hobby too.
16. The arts industry is important to Australia, especially now. Do you think people will come to appreciate the arts more after this crisis while they consume books, music and television shows that we need the arts around to produce?
A: Look; everything that people are reaching for is ART. Be that a television show, movie, video-game, comic-book, audiobook, or interacting with the number of museums and art-galleries who have found creative ways for people at home to do virtual-tours. So much of what is alleviating personal pain and boredom, that is continuing to connect people, is … ART. And as the saying goes – the world without ‘art’ is just ‘eh’. I think we’re all feeling that right now, and I hope that as people reach for those mediums and art forms – I do hope that realise that they are reaching for creativity, and then connect that to the people who made it happen. Benjamin Law says this all so much better than I can, in his Guardian Article – and I really do pray that the Government acknowledges that too. That film and TV alone is a $3-billion-dollar industry in Australia, and at times of crisis we’ve all reached for art in some capacity – and art is hurting right now, and needs our help.
I think it all comes back to … if you asked Australians right now, what they want to happen after all this – I’m betting most would say they’d like everything to go back to normal. Well, normal in Australia is the Arts. It’s having the option of ducking into an act during the International Comedy Festival. It’s planning a weekend-getaway in Clunes for Booktown Festival. Hearing of a great exhibit at NGV you can take an international visitor to. A band starting up at the pub. That’s normality, because art is … life. If we want it to be here when this is all over, we have to protect it now – in little and big ways. That means Government crisis packages, and it means individuals requesting digital titles of new books at their libraries, and (if they can!) ordering books from their local independent bookstores.
17. Do you have any book, television, podcast or movie recommendations to get us through these trying times over the next few months?
A: I want to recommend that you all reach for what works for you, in the moment. Don’t feel guilty that you binged Fleabag (or Drag Race!) for the fourth time instead of reading The Complete Works of William Shakespeare or something. It’s all art, as I said – and it all helps us cope. That being said, I can tell you what’s working for me and if there’s any crossover with what works for you then – Hey! – maybe we do a Houseparty get-together and discuss it?
TV: Killing Eve, The Commons, Stateless, The Heights, Bluey, North & South
MOVIES: 10 Things I Hate About You, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, A League of Their Own, The Mummy movies, Jane Austen-anything
PODCASTS: Keep It, The Readings Podcast, The First Time Podcast, Booktopia Podcast, The Eleventh, How to Fail with Elizabeth Day.
BOOKS: Heartstopper by Alice Oseman, Wild Fearless Chests by Mandy Beaumont, Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal by Anna Whateley and Please Don’t Hug Me by Kay Kerr.
MUSIC: The Beatles. Lizzo. Lorde. Goldfrapp. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend soundtrack. Hamilton: The Musical.
Any comments about something I may have missed?
Thank you Danielle, and congratulations on your book. I hope it finds its readers.