Isolation Publicity with Karen Turner

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 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.

StormbirdCover

Karen Turner is the author of Torn, Inviolate and Stormbird, an historical fiction trilogy that has partially been self-published and partially been traditionally published. Karen, like many other authors, has had releases, events and launches cancelled in the wake of the pandemic.

 

 

Hi Karen, and welcome to The Book Muse

  1. To start, can you tell my audience about your new book, Stormbird and the previous two, Torn and Inviolate?

Torn was my first novel. It tells the story of Alexandra, growing up in rural Yorkshire in 1808, during the time of the Napoleonic wars. From a young age Alex rails against the constraints imposed on women in her time; forced to watch enviously as her brothers get to go to university, and later when they join the war in Europe. She is betrothed against her will but falls in love with a most inappropriate man. When finally she is betrayed in the worst possible way, she seems to come to terms with the limitations of her life.

My second book Inviolate, picks up Alex’s story where Torn finishes. Darker than Torn, it follows Alex as she embarks on her future only to find that she is haunted by her past. As Alex was older in this book, I was able to explore some different, more adult themes including deceit and violence.

Stormbird, my third and latest novel, takes place in the same home that Alex grew up in, but the year is now 1941. The lady of the house, Jessica, finds herself trapped in a moral dilemma when she discovers Anton, a German Luftwaffe pilot, hiding in her barn.

Stormbird is the ultimate forbidden love story, but it’s also a tense drama as the characters struggle to survive in war-torn England – a time when harbouring the enemy was worse than being the enemy. Realising they can never be together, and with the authorities closing in, Jessica and Anton embark on a wild dash to the coast in the hope of getting Anton out of the country.

  1. When you started out on your writing journey, what was the first thing you remember deciding to submit for publication?

 

The very first thing I submitted was a short story that I wrote for a competition. The story was A Book By Any Other Cover and it won 1st prize in The Society of Women Writers’ Biennial Awards 2005.

It has since been published in a compilation of my other short stories called All That & Everything. The print version of All That & Everything sold out a few years ago but it is still available in eBook through Amazon etc.

  1. What is it about World War Two, and historical fiction in general, that you are attracted to?

 

I was attracted to WWII because my mother was born in Yorkshire in 1941 and I grew up with stories of her childhood, playing in the rubble of bombed-out houses, food rationing and never meeting her father. My grandmother told me stories of driving an ambulance around Leeds rescuing survivors of the bombing raids, and nights of dancing and partying because tomorrow may never happen. It was a time of great hardship, grief and living-for-the-moment; a romantic yet profoundly dangerous period of history.

I’m very drawn to history and the ‘old ways’. Old-fashioned costumes, homes and manners – the style of a bygone era – I have some affinity with. Many people do, I think, which is why the historical fiction genre is so popular.

  1. Prior to your novels being published, what had you had published before, and where were these stories printed?

 

 

I had a poem published once, many years ago, but I’m not a poet (I secretly think they just wanted me to buy a copy of the book!) My first published book was All That & Everything – a compilation of short stories that was published a couple of years before my first novel, Torn. It’s downloadable for eReaders through Amazon etc.

Additionally, I have a background in finance and over the years have had innumerable articles published in industry mags and newsletters.

  1. So far most authors I have interviewed have been traditionally published. Have you headed down this path, self-publishing or a hybrid and can you explain why you chose the method you did?

 

I started out self-publishing after seeing the rejection letters from traditional publishers start to mount up. I believed in Torn and really wanted it to be read so I decided to go down the self-publishing route – and I’m glad I did. Torn has received so many wonderful reviews and apparently brought so much pleasure to readers, that I’ve never regretted the effort (not to mention the expense) of going it alone. And it is expensive – really expensive, but you’re in control at all times which is a bonus.

Meanwhile, the pinnacle of every writer’s ambition is to be ‘picked up’ by a traditional publisher and when that finally happened with Stormbird, I was thrilled.

Nobody tells you what it’s really like and now, having experienced both modes of publishing, I can say that the main difference for me has been the cost – the cost of publishing Stormbird was entirely covered by the publisher.

The trade-off was that I lost a great deal of control over what my book looked like, and the publishing schedule – I had to wait nearly a year after signing the contract to see the book in print! Besides that, publishers don’t seem to be good communicators so there’s always the feeling of being in the dark. Then, after the initial launch, the momentum dries up, as the publisher tends to move onto the next project. They have to – it’s all about business – but I have been left to do my own marketing and sales without the assistance I naively thought I’d have.

In summary, I suppose, traditional publishing is still seen by many as a barometer of one’s success, but I have enjoyed the freedom and control of self-publishing more.

  1. Like many authors who have participated, I understand you had events cancelled due to the pandemic. What were these events, and which of them were you looking forward to the most?

 

I had some author talks and a writing workshop cancelled. While disappointing, the one cancellation that has really upset me was the Simultaneous Story Time (SST) that was run through a network of libraries in Australia.

The plan was that a children’s book was to be read to children simultaneously in libraries across the country. I was asked by the Berrigan Shire Library if I would be their reader and I agreed. I was soooo excited to be doing this! I received a copy of the book and was even practising my character voices and then…bummer!

  1. Do you hope to be able to reschedule these events once the pandemic is over?

 

Yes definitely. Many libraries and book groups are gearing-up so author events will be able to go ahead in future via remote hook-up, but regardless of whether it’s remote or on-site, I love to work with book-minded people. I will very happily reschedule cancelled events as well as schedule new ones.

Some unexpected opportunities have already arisen as a result of the pandemic and I’ve recently met quite a few people through online groups. I can see no reason why this wouldn’t continue in the ‘new world’ when we all emerge from this.

A writer’s life, by its nature, is insular and lonely. Speaking for myself, I spend my days in imaginary houses, talking with and thinking about imaginary people and situations –  I love to get out and meet real people.

 

  1. How much have your ties to Italy and Yorkshire informed your stories, your plots and your characters?

 

My family ties to Yorkshire have been particularly strong in my stories, especially Stormbird. All three of my novels were set in Yorkshire, in a village on the outskirts of Leeds where I once lived, and now visit regularly.

My Italian roots haven’t made their way into my stories. However, as often as possible, I pack up and go to Rome for around 3 months at a time so I can focus on my writing. The reason is that when I’m at home in Australia, there are too many distractions so when I need to get some serious writing done, I leave my husband at home and move myself to Rome where I rent an apartment and live just for writing.

So, while Yorkshire has been the inspiration for my writing, Italy has been the facilitator.

  1. Which, if any, writing awards have you won, and how did you enter them?

 

To date I have won eleven literary awards for my short stories and Stormbird was shortlisted for a major Australian romance award.

Every award you enter has different criteria so the most important thing to do is to make sure you read the entry instructions and follow the guidelines strictly. Often the entry instructions – and whether you can follow them or not – is part of the judging criteria. Some will ask you to send a physical copy of your work, while others will only accept electronic versions – nearly all of them will require an entry fee. Then there are font and spacing guidelines, margins and word limits to watch out for.

You can find out about literary awards through writer magazines, author groups and websites.

  1. Do you have any tips for aspiring writers that helped you on your writing journey to share?

 

I get asked this so often and there are two main things I always tell people.

  1. Just start writing. It doesn’t matter how good or bad it is, just get it down. A book is never written in one draft anyway; writing something perfect straight off is not going to happen. Just start writing and worry about the detail later – that’s the easy part. Knowing when your book is finished is the hard part, but that’s a whole other subject!!
  1. It doesn’t matter how well you write, everyone makes mistakes. If you’re serious about your writing, you must engage a professional editor. Nothing takes a reader out of a good story like a silly spelling or grammatical error. More than that, a good editor can help with structure, continuity and will work with you to polish your manuscript to the best it can be. If you value your work, it deserves this much!

 

 

  1. What’s the next writing project you hope to undertake?

 

My next project is a completely new concept for me. I’m writing a book that will be set in Australia, in Victoria during the Gold Rush. I’ve had an idea in my head for a long time but was always so focussed on telling the Torn, Inviolate and Stormbird stories. It’s Australia’s turn now.

 

  1. When not writing, what do you enjoy reading for pleasure?

 

When I’m not writing I love to read just about anything depending on the mood I’m in. Sometimes I go through a horror stage and I’ll read something like a Stephen King. Other times I’ll be in a biographical fad. I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed the Game of Thrones books – I love to get stuck in to a series where you follow the characters through multiple books.

Sometimes, I’ve been known to read non-fiction, particularly ancient history; Egypt, Rome, Greece.

One of the most important things for a writer to do, of course, is to read so when I’m thinking about my next book I try to read books of a similar genre. For example, when I was writing Torn and Inviolate I read a lot of Pamela Belle, Diana Gabaldon and Philippa Gregory.

Now that I’m working on a book set in Australia, I’m loving Kate Grenville.

Any comments about anything I may have missed?

 

 

Well…when I’m not writing I love to run and keep fit. My favourite event is the Melbourne half-marathon as it finishes with a lap around the MCG. I drink too much coffee and eat too much chocolate. I have been a very strict vegetarian for over 30 years.

I enjoy being creative. I bake sourdough bread and have a starter that is about four years old and needs feeding every few days just like a pet.

I have a lead-lighting studio at home and make some nice things, although I’m not very artistic. I love making chocolates and spend a lot of time playing with colours and decorative techniques, with hand-made fondant fillings in different flavours.

What else? I speak Italian and get together (via Zoom) with a group each week where we speak Italian, and discuss current affairs, politics, books, work, movies – anything really. No English allowed. When in Italy I volunteer at an animal shelter twice a week. The centre relies totally on public donation, so I use my dual-language skills to chat with visitors and explain the work the shelter does.

I have had a singing career and worked for many years for a recording company as a session vocalist (yes, there are CDs out there with my name on them!) I have sung at weddings, funerals and in more bands in more pubs, on more stages than I can recall! I have had record producers try to sign me, but I always resisted – not sure why except that I simply enjoyed the singing that I did. I didn’t want the pressure that a contract would mean.

Hmm…Is that it?

Oh yeah, I see dead people.

I think that’s it now.

Thank You Karen

Books and Bites Bingo That book you keep putting off: The Louvre by James Gardiner

books and bites game card

When it came to a book I keep putting off, it was hard. I usually don’t put a book off for the reasons many people do – it’s something they don’t want to explore yet, or something they’re being forced to read. For me, it came down to one that I had to put off because at the time, I had lots to get through for certain release dates, and this book came after the book itself was released. I often put books that arrive after release date off, unless it is for a blog tour. It helps me manage my schedule to work this way and ensures that I get through everything and get things done in time.

 

the louvre

The book that I chose for this category was The Louvre: The Many Lives of the World’s Most Famous Museum by James Gardner. When it arrived, I had lots to get through. Several books had arrived after release date, and I had many that were being released on the same day. As a result, I was trying to get through everything before it piled up too much. This was a fascinating exploration of the history of the Louvre – which started as a fortress, and evolved into a palace, and finally, the museum we know today, and was added to by a succession of French rulers and governments. Today it combines ancient and modern aspects for visitors and focuses on all aspects. It is dense and intricate – and has so much information, it is hard to condense it all here. If you’re interested in history, art, and architecture, it is a fascinating read.

Books and Bites Book Bingo – makes you blush: The Girl, the Dog and the Writer in Rome by Katrina Nannestad

books and bites game card

Welcome to another round of Books and Bites bingo. I’m starting to get to the squares that are trickier – whether that’s because it’s a specific author or title I must track down, or wait for, or the square hints at a genre I may not always read. A book that makes you blush is one of those squares that suggests certain elements of a book that might not be for everyone. On the other hand, it is one that can possibly be widely interpreted. I had been struggling with this one, as I don’t read many books that have cause to make me blush. Unless it is second-hand embarrassment for the characters, or embarrassment on behalf of the character.

 

the girl the dog and the writer in rome

One of these characters is Tobias Appleby from The Girl, The Dog and The Writer by Katrina Nannestad. He’s not in the least bit embarrassed by what he does, but Freja – and the reader – whilst entertained, are also slightly embarrassed and end up blushing on his behalf. It is one small scene in this book that did this, however, as this was one, I’ve been struggling to fill, I went with the first one I found myself blushing a little, even if was only momentary.

As this is the first in a series, I am sure there are more moments where the reader feels embarrassed for Tobias. I’m sure there are many other books out there that might cause people to blush – what are ones that you’ve found that do this to you?

The Girl, the Dog and the Writer in Rome by Katrina Nannestad

the girl the dog and the writer in romeTitle: The Girl, the Dog and the Writer in Rome
Author: Katrina Nannestad
Genre: Fiction/Travel
Publisher: HarperCollins Australia
Published: 23rd October 2017
Format: Paperback
Pages: 352
Price: $16.99
Synopsis: For the first ten years of Freja’s life, she and her mother Clementine have roamed the Arctic in search of zoological wonders. Happy, content, together. Freja and Clem. Clem and Freja.
But now, everything is changing, and Clementine must send Freja away to live with her old friend Tobias, a bestselling crime writer and, quite possibly, the most absent-minded man on earth.
Tobias isn’t used to life with a child, and Freja isn’t used to people at all, but together they’ll stumble into an Italian adventure so big that it will change things forever …
Award-winning Australian author Katrina Nannestad returns with a delicious new series about family, friendship and finding yourself.

AWARDS
Notable Book – CBCA Book of the Year Awards
Shortlisted – 2018 Speech Pathology Book of the Year Awards
~*~

When Freja’s mother, Clementine, must go away to Switzerland, she asks her old friend, Tobias to look after Freja. Freja isn’t very good with people or making friends – she wears a tag that says ‘This Child Bites’ when she meets Tobias, Tobias is absent-minded – neither are used to people in their lives. Yet as they stumble into an Italian adventure, they’ll find that everything changes and that making friends and having people you can rely on isn’t that bad after all.

AWW2020An adventure to Rome, or anywhere for that matter, is something that many of us can only dream about in these hard lockdown, isolation and pandemic times. Perhaps that’s why everyone is getting a lot of reading done, and why bookstores seem to be doing well, even if they’ve had to adjust operations to get books to people over the past few months. Books can take us on adventures when we have to stay at home, and this is exactly what The Girl, the Dog and the Writer in Rome does.

From eating raspberry gelato, to cooking lessons with Nonna Rosa, and eating at Café Vivi whilst making friends with the locals and evading three mysterious priests who seem to have taken to following Freja and Tobias, opening a mystery that follows them around Rome. While they travel, Freja and Tobias find that family and friends are found in the least likely places, and she beings to investigate the secret that Tobias and Clementine are keeping – who is Tobias, really, and what does he mean to Clementine?

This is a charming story that pulls the reader in and makes you feel like you are in Rome with the characters. The gelato is tasty and smooth, and the world they inhabit is rich, vibrant. You feel like you are there with them, watching as Finnegan eats everything in sight. These characters came to life on the page, and made the story into something special that readers of all ages will love. There is a bit of Freja and Tobias in all of us, and together, they are family and friends, and I’m looking forward to the next two books in the series.

Kitty is Not a Cat: Light’s Out by Jess Black

Kitty is not a cat lights outTitle: Kitty is Not a Cat: Light’s Out

Author: Jess Black

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia/Lothian

Published: 28th July 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 60

Price: $9.99

Synopsis: When Kitty arrives on the doorstep of a house full of music-mad felines, their lives are turned upside down as they attempt to teach her how to be human. A warmly funny junior-fiction series about Kitty, a little girl who believes she can be anything she dreams – even a cat.

A warmly funny junior-fiction series about Kitty, a little girl who believes she can be anything she dreams – even a cat. When Kitty arrives on the doorstep of a house full of music-mad felines, their lives are turned upside down as they attempt to teach her how to be human.

Some children hate going to bed. Not Kitty! Kitty falls asleep every night curled up snug as a bug in a bed box. That is, until one spooky night when Kitty’s night-light goes missing and her fear of the dark comes creeping out. The cats, unfamiliar with the concept, try to settle her down but to no avail. In the end, it won’t be a night-light that saves the day.

Based on the Australian TV series that is enjoyed by kids the whole world over.

~*~

In another Kitty is Not a Cat story, the family of cats are kept awake one night by Kitty, who is having trouble sleeping. Just as they all get settled, Kitty starts crying out – and the cats spend their evening trying to find out what is keeping Kitty from sleeping – uncovering a fear of the dark – which the cats do not understand. Yet they all come together to help Kitty.

AWW2020

In a house filled with music-loving cats, Kitty finds herself quite at home. Before it became a series of books, Kitty started life as an Australian television series for children. The series of books is a companion to the series, that fans of the series and new readers can enjoy, as a summary of the basic premise is given at the front of each  book, accompanied by a list of characters at the front to introduce new readers who have not seen the show to them, and to refresh the memories of those who have watched the show. Each medium will bring something different to the audience and readers and will hopefully make these stories accessible to as many readers and viewers as possible.

Light’s Out is about confronting your fears and overcoming them. It is about learning to share, and trust in yourself, and understand that other people might need to borrow your night-light. Kitty learns that sometimes helping others is the best thing to do, and that she can sleep on spooky nights. And that sometimes, you just need to try and you’ll achieve your goals.

Great for early readers, and readers of all ages to explore its themes and characters, to build confidence in themselves and with their reading and vocabulary. A great series for all ages and readers.

 

Kitty is Not a Cat: Teddy’s Bear by Jess Black

Kitty is not a cat teddys bearTitle: Kitty is Not a Cat: Teddy’s Bear
Author: Jess Black
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Lothian/Hachette Australia
Published: 28th June 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 60
Price: $9.99
Synopsis: What could be better than a cuddly teddy bear? How about a real-life grizzly bear! A warmly funny junior-fiction series about Kitty, a little girl who believes she can be anything she dreams – even a cat.
What could be better that a cuddly teddy bear? How about a real-life grizzly bear! Kitty and the bear spend a fun-filled afternoon together, but it doesn’t take long for Kitty to realise that having a grizzly bear for a playmate may be a little more trouble that she thought.
Kitty is Not a Cat is a warmly funny junior-fiction series about Kitty, a little girl who believes she can be anything she dreams – even a cat. When Kitty arrives on the doorstep of a house full of music-mad felines, their lives are turned upside down as they attempt to teach her how to be human.
Based on the Australian TV series that is enjoyed by kids the whole world over.

~*~

Kitty lives with a family of cats, who are trying to convince her that she is human. Kitty believes she is a cat, however, and will only communicate in meows. As winter sets in, the cats – The Nazz, Petal, Timmy Tom, Last Chance, King Tubby, Mr Clean and Cheeta – decide Kitty needs something to play with over winter. They hatch a plan to find a teddy bear for Kitty, and the results are surprising, amusing and when Cheeta brings a real grizzly bear into the house for Kitty, but will one of the other cats have an even better solution for Kitty?

AWW2020

In a house filled with music-loving cats, Kitty finds herself quite at home. Before it became a series of books, Kitty started life as an Australian television series for children. The series of books is a companion to the series, that fans of the series and new readers can enjoy, as a summary of the basic premise is given at the front of each book, accompanied by a list of characters at the front to introduce new readers who have not seen the show to them, and to refresh the memories of those who have watched the show.

Teddy’s Bear is one of four adorable stories about Kitty and her cat family, and is a great book for early readers, with themes of family, friendship and kindness at its heart, as well as acceptance and discovering who you are and what you like.

These short stories are ideal for growing the confidence of early readers in a fun and engaging way, and the illustrations in black, white and orange are also engaging, and add to the joy and fun of the story. Early readers will love these books as they build on their vocabulary and engaging with the way a story works.

This fabulous new series will charm readers of all ages.

 

  Isolation Publicity with George Ivanoff

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.

 

George Ivanoff is an actor and author of books aimed at younger readers, such as the Other Worlds series. George didn’t have any launches cancelled, but he had many author and school appearances cancelled. Here, he talks about writing, acting and his Other Worlds series, and what he had to cancel.

Any out of date information in this and other interviews is due to when they were conducted, and when they were returned as this influenced the posting schedule when I started putting this series together.

Hi George and welcome to The Book Muse

 

  1. As an author of over 100 books for kids and teenagers, when did you decide you wanted to write for this age group?

I’m not sure there was ever a conscious decision. I write the sort of stuff that I like reading, and I generally prefer reading books aimed at kids and teens. I was a reluctant reader throughout most of primary school, so I came to reading rather late; which might explain why I still read books aimed at younger readers. I do read grown-up stuff as well, but while I’m fine with non-fiction, I find that many grown-up novels take way too long to get to the point. (There are exceptions of course — Agatha Christie, for example, always manages to keep my attention.) I guess it comes down to the fact that I have a short attention span and have never completely grown up!

  1. What are your favourite genres to write in, and why these in particular?

I like writing in a variety of genres, but my favourite is science fiction. It is the genre of possibilities.

  1. Does your background as an actor help when writing novels and creating characters?

Yes. I often say that doing an acting course was the best thing I ever did for my writing. There are a lot of similarities between writing and acting — immersing yourself in the world of the story; creating characters; and taking risks. Actors and writers both put themselves out there, running the risk of ridicule. Studying the craft of acting taught me to take risks… which helped to develop my writing. Prior to studying acting, I was very timid and risk averse about most things, including my writing.

  1. What might readers have seen you acting in?

Back in the day, I did a lot of small parts in films and TV shows. I remember with great fondness, playing a pot plant deliveryman on Neighbours in the 90s. They insisted I do it with an ocker Aussie accent… which, of course, I could not do convincingly. I was in the credits as “Pot Man”… just above the dog. Other roles included playing an arsonist on Australia’s Most Wanted, and an officious army officer in the WW1 film William Kelly’s War. In addition to that, I also did many jobs as an extra (one of those uncredited background people). Those jobs included being a scantily clad, red-headed warrior in the appalling Journey to the Centre of the Earth mini-series, and being a mystical, cross-dressing neo-Nazi in a red sequinned evening gown on that ‘classic’ television series Chances. I got to spend hours pretending to be dead, lying in the mud, in the middle of the night, with giant cranes spraying water to simulate rain, for the concluding shooting-out of Ned Kelly; and Nicolas Cage almost ran me over in a 4WD during the shooting of a massive crowd scene in the Melbourne CBD for The Knowing.

I don’t do much in the way of acting these days… it’s now mostly an occasionally paying hobby. Aside from my own book trailers, my most recent bit of acting was in the sci-fi, comedy audio series Night Terrace. I had a guest role in the Season 2 episode “A Verb of Nouns”, in which I play a slightly shifty and mysterious writer named Scribe. This was a super cool job, as I was such a big fan of the first season. And recently I had the pleasure of writing a short story based on the series for their Season 3 Kickstarter campaign.

You can hear a brief clip of me in Night Terrace here.

  1. One of your series is the Other Worlds series, which features various forms of diversity such as disability, which appears in book two with Xandra. How much research did you do for each character to make sure they felt authentic for the reader?

I had quite short deadlines on these books, so my research was mostly internet based. But I also had a chat to a nurse friend of mine, whose nephew has muscular dystrophy, about the character of Xandra and how I would handle her situation. My portrayal isn’t always 100% accurate. I did, for example, take some creative liberty with her wheelchair. It’s a motorised wheelchair, but I have her younger brother push it at one point… which my friend assured me would not be possible. But I did it anyway, as I felt the story point outweighed the need for realism in that circumstance.

  1. Beast World has a very steampunk feel to it – did you choose the steampunk theme, or did it evolve naturally as you came up with the plot? (I love the animals as the royals as well)

The steampunk setting and the talking animals were the first two things I decided on when I planned out that story. I love the Victorian era and I desperately wanted to play in a steampunk world. It was that setting which then lead to other decisions, such as animal counterparts for some historical figures, like Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Coming across pics of the Crystal Palace while researching the Victorian era resulted in The Great Exhibition being woven into the plot. And the ability to have all sorts of steampunk gadgets, lead to Xandra being wheelchair bound… because leaving the wheelchair behind meant I could put her into a cool steam-powered walking chair.

  1. Apart from Other Worlds, you write lots of choose your own adventure books – what is it about this style that appeals to you, and how well does it adapt itself to a variety of genres?

My You Choose books came about because I loved the old Choose Your Own Adventure novels when I was younger. As a kid I loved the fact that I had some control over the story and that I could re-read the books and end up with completely different outcomes. I thought that was just so unbelievably cool! It also appealed to my obsessive nature and the need to discover every possible permutation of a story. As a writer, I love the process of coming up with multiple paths and finding ways for them to intertwine. I’ve written 13 books in the series and had so much fun with them. As a format, I think it can be combined with pretty much any genre. I certainly used a number of different genres — sci-fi, fantasy, horror, action/adventure, comedy.

  1. What other series and books do you write, and are they all in the same general genre, or do you like to dabble in a variety of genres based on the book?

I do enjoy dabbling with genre, style and format. My current series in non-fiction. The Australia Survival Guide came out last year, and I’m going through proofs at the moment for the second book, The Human Body Survival Guide. With these books, I’m trying to take a fun and creative approach to kids’ non-fiction. There is a nameless, video game obsessed, 13-year-old boy who narrates these books and presents the factual information.

But I’ve also written realistic adventure with the RFDS Adventures, YA sci-fi with the Gamers Trilogy and a heap of educational books (including school readers and non-fiction tied in to the Australian Curriculum).

  1. Have you ever written for older audiences, and what have you written for them?

Yes, I’ve written numerous short stories, usually sci-fi and fantasy, for grown-up audiences. I have a particular interest in media tie-in fiction. It is a difficult area to break into, but I’ve managed to get a few things through. In 2016 I had a story called “An Eye For an Eye” in The X-Files: Secret Agendas and the following year a story called “Another Man’s Skin” in the Deadworld Anthology. They were definitely NOT for kids. I’m currently writing a novel for the Lethbridge-Stewart range of books (a spin-off from Doctor Who, following the adventures of Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart). That’s for a general audience — so, while aimed at adults in terms of story complexity, it still needs to be reasonably safe for younger readers.

  1. Have you had any new books released, or scheduled to be released in the next few months, and if so, what are they?

The Gamers Trilogy was recently re-branded and published with new titles and covers in March. My next book, The Human Body Survival Guide, is not due out until 15 September.

  1. Did you have to cancel any launches, events or appearances of any kind due to the COVID-19 crisis?

No cancelled launches, as the Gamers relaunch happened a few weeks before lockdown. But lots of cancelled/postponed speaking gigs, from school visits to library talks to festivals. While I understand that the circumstances make this necessary, it has been so very disappointing. I love interacting with kids during school visits, and other authors during festivals. The majority of my working life is spent in solitary confinement in front of my computer, so I cherish these forays out into the wider world.

To compensate, I am now offering virtual sessions, and have got a few lined up already. The first is a class about writing for the primary education market coming up on 4 May. And I’ve put together avideo about virtual presentations for schools.

But nothing really compares to face-to-face interaction, and I can’t wait for life to return to normal.

 

  1. Do you have plans for any new novels, new series or additions to series like Other Worlds?

Everything is a bit up in the air at the moment. Once I’ve finished working on the Lethbridge-Stewart novel, I’m scheduled to have a chat with my publisher at Penguin Random House about what I do next with them. I’ve got LOTS of ideas.

  1. Favourite writing snack?

Chocolate! Always… chocolate!

  1. You’ve worked with various state reading challenges – what do you enjoy about working to help build these challenges?

I love that these reading challenges exist. They’re a great way of getting kids enthused about reading. I’ve not actually worked with them, as such. They’ve simply chosen some of my books for their recommended reading lists… which is VERY COOL! Also, in 2018, the organisers of the Victorian Premier’s Reading Challenge interviewed me, along with a bunch of other authors and illustrators, for a series of video promos. That was a lot of fun.

  1. As an author, what do you think books can do for people during the pandemic?

What can’t they do??!! Just like at any other time, books have the ability to entertain and educate. They help people empathise and see other points of view. They provide an escape. They allow people to visit places they have never been to and interact with people they have never met. But in this time of pandemic, with self-isolation and social distancing, they have also become a lifeline — a way to still connect and not feel so alone.

  1. Which local booksellers do you love to frequent and support?

I love bookshops! And I am lucky to live close to a number of really good ones. Ordinarily, when not in lockdown, I travel around quite a bit for speaking gigs, and I take the opportunity to visit as many bookshops as possible. I’m a Melbourne resident, and some of my favourites include The Little Bookroom (Carlton), Beaumaris Books (Beaumaris), The Sun Bookshop (Yarraville), Pictures & Pages (Coburg), Ulysses Bookstore (Sandringham), Dymocks Camberwell (Camberwell) and Eltham Bookshop (Eltham). Each of these shops have enthusiastic staff with a broad knowledge of what’s being published in Australia.

  1. As someone who works in the arts as a presenter, actor and author, what do you enjoy about working in the arts, and what additional support do you feel the arts sector needs to ensure its survival, especially during these times?

What I enjoy about the Arts sector is the creativity. For me it’s not just a job. It is something that I adore being involved in. It would be really nice if the government treated it with the same amount of respect they treat other sectors with. I get the distinct impression that the government simply does not take the Arts sector all that seriously… which is rather short sighted. Some basic support and respect would mean that we wouldn’t have to face threats to copyright or parallel importation restrictions — things that are fundamental to the Australian publishing industry and authors’ ability to earn money. In terms of our current situation, the federal stimulus package seems rather geared towards businesses and people in permanent employment. While there is some support to freelancers, accessing that support is so much more convoluted and difficult for people working in the Arts sector. Having said that, the Victorian State Government have apparently announced an Arts Survival Package. I haven’t had the chance to look into that yet, but it sounds hopeful.

  1. Finally, are there any future projects on the horizon?

There are numerous potential projects. But nothing set in concrete.

 

Any further comments?

During the pandemic self-isolation, I’ve been trying to put video readings up online once a week. It can’t replace face-to-face interaction… but at least it’s something to help fill the void. I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to keep it up, but for the moment it is proving to be a fun distraction. And it’s a way of continuing to interact with readers and promoting my books. I do sometimes enlist the help of my family to assist in this online madness. My reading from The Australia Survival Guide (which is another example of my inability to do an Aussie accent) was directed/shot by my wife, and involved my 11-year-old throwing one of our pet chickens at me.

If you really feel the need to see some of my other readings, you can go to my YouTube Channel.

I should probably shut up now. I just realised how verbose I was being with the answers to some of these questions. If you made it this far without slipping into a coma… thank you!

Thank you George, and best of luck with everything,

 

Toffle Towers: The Great River Race by Tim Harris, James Foley

Toffle Towers 2Title: Toffle Towers: The Great River Race
Author: Tim Harris, James Foley
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Puffin
Published: 7th January 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 272
Price: $14.99
Synopsis: The second book in Tim Harris’s ridiculously entertaining Toffle Towers series that will make kids laugh out loud – and get their imaginations soaring.

Chegwin’s adventures at Toffle Towers continue when, one by one, his hotel staff are ‘reverse mugged’ by two mysterious men. Chaos ensues and it’s Chegwin’s job to get to the bottom of these attacks before Toffle Towers loses all its hard-earned guests. Meanwhile, the town of Alandale is preparing for the annual Great River Race. Once Chegwin discovers his saboteur is no other than Brontessa Braxton, owner of the rival hotel in town, Chegwin find himself preparing to go head to head with her in the Great River Race to save his beloved staff and Toffle Towers.

~*~

Chegwin is back, managing his hotel, Toffle Towers. All seems to be going well – until his staff are reverse mugged – given things that make their job harder, and Chegwin’s idea to have them change jobs doesn’t work. Then he is challenged to the Great River Race by his rival, Brontessa Braxton – and soon, Chegwin must find another way to save the hotel, and to also make sure he can save his staff and hotel.

Everyone we loved from the first book is back, and just as quirky and fun. Chegwin is still a daydreamer – which sometimes works to his advantage, and sometimes it doesn’t – when he is able to think through his daydreams, wonderful things happen, like upside down check-ins! And solving problems that crop up in the kitchen or solving the mystery of room 49 and room 50. The flying shuttle bus is still there, along with a new bathtub kart that guests can ride to and from the hotel as well. The parents checking in sometimes seem less thrilled than their children, but eventually, they come round and everyone has a good time.

The series builds on what has come before, so it is probably a good idea to read these ones in order, which I am doing, and I will be reading book three soon to get the review ready to go for the fourth of August. The humour is there, and always will be – it pulls everything together and is a creative series that looks at the lives of those who do not conform to society and the way they do this, and the pursuits they explore each day to achieve their goals – running the hotel, checking in guests, cooking food and many, many other things as they try to thwart the reverse muggers.

Like the first book, this is fast-paced, fun and filled with wonderful internal conversations that contribute to the story and give a sense of who the characters are, which makes this series exceptionally fun and very well suited to the readership, who will enjoy the second book in this series if they have not already read it already.

Looking forward to the next book!

 

Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser by Kate Bailey

alice curiouser and curiouserTitle: Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser
Author: Kate Bailey
Genre: Non-Fiction/Exhibition Guide
Publisher: V&A Publications
Published: 2nd July 2020
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 224
Price: $79.99
Synopsis: Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is a cultural phenomenon. First published in 1865, it has never been out of print and has been translated into 170 languages. But why does it have such enduring and universal appeal for both adults and children?

This book explores the global impact of Alice in Wonderland across art, design and performance from the nineteenth century to today. It shows how Alice has been re-imagined and reinterpreted by each new generation: from the original illustrations by John Tenniel to artwork by Peter Blake and Salvador Dali, and from the 1951 Disney movie to Tim Burton’s latest interpretation.

This beautiful, playful publication also includes specially commissioned interactive illustrations by award-winning artist Kristjana S. Williams, as well as quotes from an array of cultural creators from Stephen Fry to Tim Walker, Ralph Steadman to Little Simz about the profound influence of Alice on their work.

~*~

Ever since the 1860s, Lewis Carroll’s beloved Alice stories – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its follow-up, Alice Through the Looking Glass, have captured the imaginations of readers and artists for over one hundred and fifty years. Originally told in episodic form, the Alice stories have been recreated in art, in writing, in movies and performance for as long as the books have been around, and as this study into the reception and retellings of Alice discusses, Lewis Carroll was not averse to these retellings, yet perhaps one of the things that can trip up those reimagining the stories is the episodic format, and how to make these flow into a singular narrative, or how to translate a story based around word usage into a performance like ballet that doesn’t use speech, but movement, to tell the story.

Alice has been part of the world collective consciousness for almost one hundred and sixty years, and there are many aspects that we know intrinsically: Wonderland, Cheshire Cat, Mad Hatter – they all evoke an image for us – whether it is the Tenniel illustrations, the 1951 Disney animation and beyond – there is always something in our zeitgeist or knowledge that harkens back to Alice.

As this exhibition guide does, it tells us of the origins of Alice – stories that Lewis Carroll – Charles Lutwidge Dodgson – told to the Liddell girls on an afternoon boating trip while he taught at Oxford. These stories are full of nonsense, and the retellings work to use those aspects to their fullest extent.

The exhibition guide for Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser was set for the exhibition’s June 2020 to January 2021, however a quick perusal of the Victoria and Albert Museum website shows that the exhibition has been moved to 2021 due to the pandemic. But for those of us who cannot get to exhibit, this book offers access to the items on display – the new illustrations, the various interpretations and advertising, performances and fashion, and everything in between. It evokes a sense of wonder, and the nonsense that Lewis Carroll created, and that began the Golden Age of Children’s Literature, which saw a move away from the didactic nature of children’s books until the publication of the Alice books, which then saw a move into other well-known works.

The legacy of the Alice stories is also touched on, and how this has impacted the Liddell family. There are many facets to this story, and this exhibition and the accompanying guide bring some of the endearing and enduring aspects of Alice to life, and a quick Google search shows the many books surrounding Alice, Lewis Carroll and the multitude of editions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, some of them coming out to coincide with the significant anniversaries over the past few years, and examining a variety of aspects of the legacy of Alice. This is one example of how Alice in Wonderland has become one of the most well-known works, never out of print since publication and a work that has inspired many interpretations and creations, and if travel were possible or if I lived in London, this would be an exhibit I would love to attend. I will settle for the exhibition guide, as it allows me to explore the story and exhibits from the comfort of my own home amidst a pandemic. It is a book to be treasured and revisited, to be dipped in and out of, or explored cover to cover. It combines the scholarly investigation, and the history of Alice, Lewis Carroll, and its journey of interpretations with the nonsensical and whimsical feel of the original and the way it has been interpreted. An excellent addition for fans of Alice in Wonderland. I loved this book, and will be revisiting it.

Isolation Publicity with Deb Abela

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 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.

Deb Abela is the author of many books including the spelling bee books and the Grimsden trilogy, both of which she discusses below., as well as her new book out in August, Bear in Space, the loss of school visits and the difficulties in connecting with those she works with through the Room to Read charity.

Hi Deb, and welcome to The Book Muse!

  1. Have you always wanted to be a writer, and where did you get your start in writing content for children?

Yes. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 7. I LOVE disappearing into a book. My first job writing for kids was as producer/writer for a show called, Cheez TV on Network TEN. It was a cartoon hosting show, which meant I was PAID to watch cartoons! Yes, paid!

  1. What was it like working with Cheez TV – and what was the weirdest thing, or the most interesting thing you had to write a segment about?

In between cartoons, I had to write segments for the hosts…sometimes they acted out skits, interviewed people or we went on location. The best location we went to was New York City and one of the most interesting things I wrote about was interviewing an astronaut about her time in space. We had to ask her, of course, how astronauts go to the toilet in outer space.

  1. You have written a variety of novels for children – are they all aimed at middle grade readers, or are some aimed at a different age group?

I loved being 11 and so most of my characters are the same age. I’ve written about 11 year olds who are spies, brilliant spellers, trapped in a flooded city, flying machine inventors, escapees from WW2, soccer players and owners of amusement parks. I have two picture books for younger readers called Wolfie An Unlikely Hero and Bear in Space, which is about a bear in space.

  1. I got started with your books with The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee – and as a quiz writer, started writing a quiz in my mind even though it was a review book – what is it about spelling bees that inspired you to write the India Wimple books?

When I was in grade 4, I had this stupendous teacher called Miss Gray. Every Monday she would hand out a list of words for us to study and on Friday she would hold Spelling Olympics. She’d pit the boys against the girls in a running race to the board to spell the word. We LOVED it and became really good spellers.

  1. Do you think there’d be more India Wimple books, or has she gone as far as possible with spelling bees?

There are two spelling bees, The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee and The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery. In the first, shy, nervous India Wimple is encouraged by her gorgeous family to enter the national competition and in the second India is invited to compete in the international comp in London.

 

  1. The Grimsdon trilogy is one I’m yet to read – what is the premise of that, and what made you decide to write three books?

About 15 years ago I got really angry that governments around the world weren’t addressing the issue of climate change…so I thought, I wonder what would happen if we keep ignoring the science and something big goes wrong. So I flooded a city and added sea monsters, flying machines and girls who are good with swords. I was harassed by kids to write more, so followed New City and Final Storm, with just as much action, wild weather, robots and courageous kids. They are essentially action adventure stories where the kids rule!

  1. Have you had any new releases come out this year so far, and what are they?

I have a new picture book coming out in August called Bear in Space. It began with a sketch of a bear by illustrator Marjorie Crosby-Fairall, floating in space. The story is about a bear who is different who loves space and when he builds a rocket to fly into space, it’s there he makes his first real friend when he meets a panda in her rocket who also loves space. It’s about being different and the importance of being yourself and having friends who love you just the way you are.

Bear in Space Final cover front

  1. Have you had to cancel, postpone or change the way you participate in any events, appearances or launches?

Like so many people, 2020 for me has been completely turned upside down. I’d been invited to festivals all over Australia, including the Byron Bay and Sydney Writers Festivals, two festivals overseas and was invited to be writer-in-residence at schools across the country. I LOVE working with kids, so it has been so disappointing to have all those visits be cancelled, and I feel so bad for the festival organisers who put so much work into creating such brilliant events that couldn’t safely go ahead. So I am now doing my school visits and workshops and teaching online, which is fun for now but I’m really looking forward to going into the classes again. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=up5I7OfVuaI&feature=emb_logo

  1. Have you won any awards for your books, and which ones are they?

I’ve been very fortunate to have won awards and been shortlisted for many of my books. Here’s a link to the awards: https://www.deborahabela.com/debs-awards

  1. You’ve also written across several genres – have any had more challenges than another, or do they all present their own writing or research based challenges?

All writing presents its own challenges and after 26 books, one thing I do know is that they are all different. Even books from the same series can have their own personality and difficulties. I wrote my first book, Max Remy In Search of the Time and Space Machine in 6 weeks, but others have taken much longer. The Grimsdon series is more complicated and really pushed the way my brain works, but it is one of my favourite series. For my WW2 novel, Teresa A New Australian, I spent 3 months researching before I even began writing the novel, which I needed for the novel to ring true.

 

  1. You’re also an ambassador for Room to Read ­– what does Room to Read do, and what specific work do you do for them?

Room to Read is a charity that has changed the lives of 16.8 million children in 16 countries. They believe that real world change begins with education and they do this by working with local communities, partner organisations, and governments to develop literacy skills in primary kids and help girls complete secondary school. www.roomtoread.org.

  1. Has any of Room to Read’s work been affected by COVID-19?

Yes, it is harder to reach some communities now and our fundraising efforts this year have been hampered and some put on hold. The founder, John Wood, is still optimistic, and they held an online event on May 1 led by Julia Roberts and over 200 artists and leaders to bring the joy of reading into homes worldwide.

  1. What do you do as a role model for Books in Homes?

Books in Homes works with schools and communities to deliver free books of choice to kids who may not have their own, setting them up for a love of reading and literacy skills which will form the foundation for lifelong achievement. My role is helping select the books and go into classrooms to hand out the free books….you should see those happy faces when they hear they can keep the books forever!

  1. As an author and artist, how are you managing the changes in how the arts industry is working during these hard times?

It’s very tough out there. The entertainment and publishing industries have been some of the hardest hit during this time. Booksellers, festivals and publishers are looking at ways to survive with the cancellation of festivals, book launches, readings and tours. Ironically, isolation has given me more time to write than I’ve had in years. I don’t know what the industry will look like when we come out of this, but I do know for now I need to buy books from my local store and keep finding solace and fun in writing.

 

  1. Do you have a favourite local bookseller you like to frequent?

I am lucky because I have two bookshops just a walk away, The Children’s Bookshop and Gleebooks. There is also a Dymocks not far as well but the great thing is, bookshops are still operating online and would LOVE to take orders from readers, which is going to be so important in supporting them and ensuring they survive.

 

  1. Who are your favourite authors to read?

Ahhh….there are so many…but I do have a few who make me feel as if I’m sitting in front of a warm fire. For kids I love Kate DiCamilo and Katherine Rundell and adults Elizabeth Strout. I’ll stop there because this list is huge.

  1. Many artists and authors are affected by what is going on right now – what advice do you have for people who might not think the arts are suffering, or who take it the industry for granted?

Please buy books. For you, as presents, for later…your bookshop needs you now. A lot of us have more time and the libraries are closed, so visiting a bookshop online is the perfect solution!

Keep creating – do whatever it is that is calling you, it is great for your soul, your heart and your mental health.

  1. Do you have a furry writing companion who keeps you company during writing sessions?

No furry friends, but the trees all around us are full of cockatoos, lorikeets, kookaburras and few seasonal birds that I love like the koel.

  1. Favourite writing snack?

Tea. That’s it really. Tea.

  1. What do you have planned next for your writing?

I have a few smaller series ideas I’ve been developing and two middle grade novels I’ve ben really enjoying. I’ve also written a poem for an environmental anthology. It’s been fun playing with ideas and disappearing into these stories as the characters slowly come to life and let me escape.

Anything further?

Here are ways to find me.

Thanks Deb!