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Any out of date information in this and other interviews is due to when they were conducted, and when they were returned as this influenced the posting schedule when I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

 

Ella at Eden: The Secret Journal by Laura Sieveking

ella at eden 2Title: Ella at Eden: The Secret Journal
Author: Laura Sieveking
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Scholastic Australia
Published: 1st May 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 192
Price: $15.99
Synopsis: Ella has settled in to life at Eden College. She loves her friends and exploring her new school. When she accidentally uncovers a hidden diary, Ella’s curiosity is sparked. As she follows the clues in the diary, Ella discovers there is more to Eden College than meets the eye. Can she work out who wrote the secret journal?

Join Ella in the second book of this fabulous new series!

~*~
As Ella settles into Eden, and makes friends, the history of the school starts to come out, and in the lead up to the Alumni Luncheon, Ella and her friends are dared by Saskia to get them in trouble. During one of these pranks, Ella finds an old diary, and as she reads it, she discovers the story of Elena, an Eden girl from 1940. But what is her link to the Alumni Luncheon?

Returning to Ella and Eden is like returning to a great group of friends who are always there for you and will always be there for you. Eden is a place you want to return to, and the characters are the same, yet they grow and change across the stories, and we’re only two books in. After reading the first book for review from Scholastic, I wanted to find out what happened next, and got this book as soon as I could, and finally managed to read it after having it on my shelf for a while.

AWW2020

In these books has a mystery at its heart, as well as themes of friendship and cooperation with each other and uniting when your friend feels like they don’t matter. Told through Ella’s eyes, it is a beautiful series that is set in a familiar school setting and manages to get rid of the parents – as is common in kids’ books – but without killing them! Sending the girls off to boarding school and voila!

Ellas determined to find out who wrote the diary and what happened to the author of the diary – and the secrets intrigue her friends – who are always there for her. This book evokes a sense of self, of curiosity and showcases a love of words through Ella that so many readers will adore and come to love and identify with as they read about her adventures at Eden.

Another wonderful story from Laura Sieveking, and I look forward to the next book in the series.

Isolation Publicity with Andrew McDonald

unnamed (1)

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.

Andrew MacDonald is the author of many books for younger readers but is perhaps most well-known for his Real Pigeons series about crime fighting pigeons. Because this is what most people associate with him, he has become known as ‘the pigeon man’. Below, he discusses writing, where the idea for Real Pigeons came from, other crime fighting animals and gets to answer a question from the son of a friend who is a big fan of the books.

Hi Andrew, and welcome to The Book Muse!

  1. Your series Real Pigeons looks and sounds like fun – where did the idea for crime solving pigeons come from?

The idea first occurred to me when I was travelling overseas and realised that pigeons are one of the constants that you see, from country to country. They’re everywhere!

I started wondering what hidden agenda pigeons might have and it made sense that they would be selfless creatures protecting the world from evil. Plus, pigeons look hilarious. The way they waddle around always makes me laugh. The idea for a series of stories about funny, loveable and brave crime-fighting pigeons really took hold from there.

And it all came together when illustrator Ben Wood began drawing the world of the Real Pigeons.

  1. How many books do you have planned for the series?

We initially signed up to do six books in the series – and we’ve just agreed to do a further four with our publisher, Hardie Grant Egmont. As long as kids are reading and enjoying the books, I’m very happy to stay in that wacky pigeon world and keep telling birdie stories.

  1. Have you written other work, or do you find that people mostly recognise you as the author of real pigeons?

 

I wrote a couple of middle-grade novels a few years ago, but I’m definitely best known for Real Pigeons now. Some people now call me ‘Pigeon Man’ and ‘That Pigeon Guy’ and ‘Why does he like pigeons so much?’ I don’t mind though. At this stage, I find being associated with pigeons is a positive thing. They’re a lot smarter than people give them credit for.

  1. Anthropomorphic animals are always fun to read and write – what other animals do you think would be crime solvers like your pigeons?

Animals are ideal for crime-fighting and mystery solving because we – the human race – tend to overlook them so frequently.

I’ll bet cats are online trying to solve cold murder cases when their owners aren’t home.

I’ll bet the flying foxes that zoom over Melbourne at night know exactly where the crime is happening below (I assume crime has a distinct sonar-y feeling they pick up on).

And who knows how many dirt-level crimes are being stopped by cicadas beneath our feet. Unless the cicadas themselves are committing the crimes. I’ve never been sure about cicadas. They could go either way.

  1. With book five out in May 2020, did you have to cancel any launches or events due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

 

Yes, everything we had planned to celebrate the new book – Real Pigeons Peck Punches – got cancelled. Bookshop events, library workshops, bookseller visits – and an appearance at the Sydney Writers Festival.

Ben and I still wanted to do something special to mark the release of the new book. Something that would also let us connect with readers. So we’ve worked with Hardie Grant Egmont and launched a special YouTube series called The Super Coo Club.

Basically, The Super Coo Club features weekly videos of Ben and I chatting about Real Pigeons, talking about our creative processes and sharing some writing and drawing tips – while also mucking around and making complete fools of ourselves. That’s what we normally do at events, so that’s what we have done in these videos.

We’ve also asked Real Pigeons fans to send video questions to us. We’ll be answering those questions in the Super Coo Club videos. It’s going to be awesome having some interactivity with young readers, despite everyone being stuck at home

Oh – and each episode comes with writing ideas, drawing prompts and downloadable activity sheets so that kids can get creative themselves after watching the videos. We’re really hoping they enjoy what we’ve made and have fun – from the safety of home!

  1. Which of these events, or appearances were you the keenest for, and why? (It’s okay if you want to talk about all of them)

 

We did have a special event lined up for our appearance at the Sydney Writers Festival – a Real Pigeons Live Mystery with live storytelling, drawing and a mystery for the audience to solve. That would have been really fun. But it’s always about the kids. When you meet a young reader who has connected with something you’ve written, it doesn’t matter if you’re at a big festival or at a library in a town most people have never heard of. What matters is that you get to be a part of a child’s reading journey. And that’s the best thing in the world.

  1. What made you choose the age group you write for, and what are the challenges and joys in writing for this age group?

 

I don’t think I ever consciously chose an age group to write for – the humour and silliness that you see in the Real Pigeons books is just me. That’s what I’m like. Some might say I haven’t evolved much since I was at primary school. But I like to think that I’ve just retained – or at least remembered – the feeling of being that age.

The challenge is that you have strict parameters to work within when writing for a young reader, depending on their age. For example, the language and vocabulary need to be perfectly pitched and the stories can’t be too simple nor too complex. It’s a balancing act. But when it works, it’s so rewarding. Because kids can be very discerning readers – they’ll throw away a book quickly if it doesn’t click for them. But if they take to a book, they’ll often take to it passionately. And you can’t have passionate adult readers without first having passionate kid readers.

 

  1. You do many school visits – what kind of questions do the kids ask, and what is it like presenting to a junior school audience?

 

Presenting to a young audience isn’t without its challenges, but I find it really fun and rewarding.

If you’ve got a good story to tell and you can speak to kids on their level, then you’re bound to have a good time. Personally, I make lots of dumb jokes to get to ‘their level’. But there are lots of ways to do it.

And kids always ask smart questions. They want to know where you get your ideas from, which is essentially a question about how to facilitate and control creativity. They ask about characters and story choices. And they ask about the business of writing.

One question I get all the time is, ‘How much money do you make?’ That question can sound rude, at first, but it’s actually a great way to talk about how making books is a team effort. Authors are important but so are illustrators and editors and publishers and agents and printers and designers and marketing staff – among many others. It’s important that everyone gets paid for their work on a book.

  1. When on a school visit, what sort of things do you plan to include in your presentations and book talks?

 

I’ll always explain what drives me to write stories, how I went from being a kid who really loved writing stories to a published author as an adult. And I’ll explain my creative process. You can never tell anyone the best way to write their story with 100% authority. It’s different for everyone. What works for one person will not work for another. But I can model a creative process by demonstrating mine.

And, of course, I want to inspire kids to write and draw and read and be interested in the world around them. I love demonstrating how passionate I am about stories and reading, so they can see the effect these things have had on my life. A book can tell a great story. But it can also change your life. That’s a very powerful messag.

 

10. What sparked your love for the written word, and when did you decide you wanted to write books?

 

The spark came when I was a kid. I was so young I don’t even remember a sparky moment. I just always loved writing stories, drawing pictures and reading books. I often hung out in my school library just to help the librarian shelve books and sort book orders. What a book nerd!

As I got older, I decided I wanted to be a journalist. I studied journalism at university, but around the same time I (re)started writing fiction. And so after I’d completed my degree, instead of getting a cadetship somewhere, I enrolled in RMIT’s Professional Writing and Editing course. That course was amazing and it showed me how to write a book and how to go about the business of books too.

 

  1. How were you paired with illustrator, Ben Wood?

 

Ben and I didn’t know each other until Real Pigeons. I had already sold the manuscript to Hardie Grant Egmont, and they set out to find an illustrator. They had a pre-existing relationship with Ben, who had been illustrating Ailsa Wild’s very excellent Squishy Taylor series.

While I wasn’t actually involved in selecting an illustrator for the series, I remember saying to Hardie Grant Egmont that whoever they choose must be able to draw a hilarious-looking pigeon. Ben met that criterion straight away – and has since gone way beyond, illustrating an amazing universe of birds, animals and other absurdities.

 

12. Do you have any other series planned, or are you focused on Real Pigeons right now?

 

Right now we’re very much focused on Real Pigeons. We’ve just signed up to do books 7, 8, 9 and 10 in the series with Hardie Grant Egmont, which is really exciting. I still love spending time in our ridiculous pigeon world and I’m so honoured that kids are enjoying that world too.

 

13. I have a question from a young friend, Jarvis, who adores your books. He has asked if there will be a bin chicken and a wolf who will be best friends in future books?

 

Hello Jarvis! Nice to hear from you in the middle of this interview! Thanks for asking such a great question.

Have you met Straw Neck yet? She’s an ibis who makes her first appearance in the second book, Real Pigeons Eat Danger, when the pigeons meet her in a dumpster as she’s making inventions out of rubbish. I can imagine that Straw Neck would get along quite well with a wolf. She’s a straight talker and wouldn’t put up with any hijinks a wolf might try on.

You’ll definitely be seeing more of Straw Neck in the future. As for a wolf … you’ll have to wait and see, hehe!

 

14. Following on from that, would the pigeons ever team up with a cassowary or a kangaroo?

I especially like the thought of the Real Pigeons coming across a cassowary. Cassowaries are such beautiful, strong and dangerous birds. They’re like ninja emus that have dressed up in colourful party clothes. And I can just imagine the pigeons talking to a kangaroo who is convinced that hopping is better than flying. Who knows, maybe one of these ideas will show up in future books!

15. Working in the arts, you provide great entertainment for kids. For you, what does working in the arts sector mean, and what more can be done to support it?

 

It’s quite simply a privilege to write for kids and make a living working in the arts in this country. Being a white, middle-class man definitely put me in a good position to attempt a creative freelance career. I’m lucky. I think about that all the time. And it makes me determined to work hard and try to make the best art I possibly can, while I’m in this position.

But the arts industry in Australia is seriously underfunded. The industry is worth $15 billion yet federal arts funding keeps being reduced. And writers and literature organisations traditionally get a pretty small cut of whatever funding there is anyway. That makes it very hard for book writers and creators to establish themselves and maintain a career once they’re established. Australians are great readers. We buy lots of books, we read heaps. But there needs to be more support for emerging and established book creators, so that Australian readers can read Australian books. I don’t think that point can be overstated.

 

16. Do you have a favourite local bookseller, and which one do you find yourself always going back to?

 

I worked at Readings for many years, and they will always be one of my favourites. Their kids’ shop in Carlton is heavenly. But we’re lucky to have so many great bookshops in Australia.

The Little Bookroom in Carlton North is great. Avid Reader in Brisbane is awesome (as is its kids’ shop, Where the Wild Things Are). The Avenue bookshops are all amazing. And I actually think we’re lucky to have lots of bookshops in shopping centres, thanks to the likes of Robinsons, Dymocks, QBD and Harry Hartog. And I haven’t even mentioned some of the great regional bookshops like Squishy Minnie in Kyneton and Blarney Books in Port Fairy.

I could go on but if I wrote about every bookshop in Australia that I like, I’d use up all of the internet’s storage space.

 

  1. Did working as a bookseller help you work out what you wanted to write?

 

Working in bookshops reinforced my love for children’s literature more than anything. But it also exposed me to lot that has helped me on my author journey.

You’re obviously exposed to a lot of reading material when you’re in a bookshop every day. There are always ARCs to read. You get a good taste of what customers like (and don’t like). It’s interesting to chat to publishers who walk in to see how their books – and their competitors’ books – are tracking.

One of the things that I always think about, having worked in a couple of bookshops, is: how is a bookseller going to recommend a book to a customer?

In my experience as a bookseller, you get less than 30 seconds to pitch a book to a customer who has asked for help. That might not sound like much, but whenever I was asked for a kids’ book recommendations, I would throw a handful of books at the customer – with a few lines of recommendations for each one – then let the customer choose.

I think about this all the time because it reinforces just how straightforward the initial pitch for a book needs to be. Because if a bookseller can’t quickly summarise a book – or speak to a cultural reference point to help explain it – then there might be a problem.

 

18. What do you love about children’s and Young Adult literature?

 

I love that the books I read when I was young are the ones that mean the most to me today. I recently read and adored Normal People by Sally Rooney, but I’m not going to carry that book in my heart forever the way I carry Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Harriet the Spy. I loved those books as a kid and they’re part of who I am in a very deep and integral way. That’s the power of children’s literature.

 

19. What is it like judging for an award such as the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award?

 

 

It was an amazing experience actually. I was judging the Young Adult category of the prize. There was a lot of reading involved, as you can imagine, but getting paid to read YA books and debate them with other people was a total joy.

It was also interesting reading an entire year’s worth of YA publishing in a small amount of time. It gave me a great overview of Australian YA that year. You could see the trends of that year – in terms of the styles and genres of books getting published. But it also impressed on me the quality and depth of local YA publishing programs.

 

20. Finally, do you have recommendations for good reads during isolation?

 

I struggled to read books when the pandemic first took hold. It was a stressful time and my brain was busy on other matters (reading the Guardian live blog compulsively, looking up value-for-money casserole recipes, etc).

But after a few weeks, things settled down and I resumed reading again. I’ve been reading Comet in Moominland as the Moomins are always a calming read in anxious times.

I’ve also been rereading Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (in preparation to read the new Book of Dust volumes) and am about to read Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. Clearly, I’m taking comfort in fantasy that takes me far away from my #isolife.

Any further comments?

 

Nothing except to say thank you for having me. And please say hi to Jarvis for me and thank him for the questions!

Thanks Andrew, and good luck with Real Pigeons!

 

Isolation Publicity with Tim Cope

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.

tim cope
Tim Cope

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.

tim and tigon

Tim Cope is an adventurer, film maker and author who has travelled the world, and conducts treks all over the world. On one trek, he met his beloved travel companion, Tigon, and has recently released their story for younger readers. Whilst the book came out last year. Tim had author appearances and treks postponed. He talks about those here, and what he plans to do during the pandemic. The map and headshot in this post were provided by Tim.

 

tim map
Map of Tim’s journey.

Hi Tim, and welcome to The Book Muse

 

  1. You’re an author, an adventurer and a film maker – which did you start with, and how did you get into all three?

  
It all started with a writing project I did in year nine English in which I chose to describe what it was like to come out of a coma (at age ten I had contracted encephalitis). My teacher told me that I could be a writer one day. I’ve always loved writing, particularly the way in which it can harmonise and express the complexities of perception, allowing for the synthesis of thought, feeling and of the senses.

Parallel to that, I grew up in the countryside with a father in the outdoors. I began dreaming of adventure in my teens and by the time I finished school decided to delay university and pursue travel. During a year of working and travelling on a shoe-string budget travel in the UK and Europe I decided that writing and adventure fitted hand in glove for me.

 

 

  1. Of all the places you’ve been to on your adventures, do you have a favourite, and why?

I’ve been travelling to Mongolia just about every year since the year 2000. It is an extraordinary country where traditional life still holds sway. It’s a place where we can reflect on the many alternative systems available to us as societies. In regional areas Mongolians are still predominantly nomadic, private property is almost unheard of, and people mostly only own as many possessions as they can fit on the back of their camels, or on their trucks.

 

  1. Tim and Tigon – your new book – is aimed at middle grade to early young adult readers and comes out in September. What is Tim and Tigon about, and where did the inspiration come from?

 

My inspiration originally came from Tigon himself – my Kazakh dog. A few months  into the trip a man who accompanied on horse back for a couple of weeks gave me his small puppy. “In Kazakhstan dogs choose their owners. He is yours” he had told me. I looked down at this scrawny six month old pup, named Tigon, and wasn’t sure he would make it more than two weeks through the perilous winter of Kazakhstan (where it regularly drops below -40 degrees). I would soon learn, however,  that his spirit was much larger than his tiny frame. As we travelled together for three years across the Eurasian steppe to Europe, I watched Tigon grow into an adult, and live through untold challenges and scrapes. His sense of humour, his bravery, his curiosity and ability to appeal to the better side of human beings inspired me and lifted my spirits every day. And somehow, across all cultures, young people could immediately relate to Tigon.

Back here in Australia I visited hundreds of schools and organisations with my story, and the feedback from parents and teachers was always that it was hard to find engaging non-fiction for young people. Eventually I was able to fulfil the dream of writing about Tigon in this new book.

 

 

  1. Have you had to cancel any author events, launches or appearances due to COVID-19 yet, and if so, what were they? If not, what are you looking forward to?

  

2020 for me was a slated as a year in which I would do three main things:

1.Tour schools nationally with my book.

2.Run expeditions to Mongolia

3.Buy a house.

By mid March, all three of these had been more or less wiped out. Like for many my life has been turned upside down.

In terms of book events I had schools scheduled across Victoria, NSW, WA and Queensland that have all been indefinitely postponed or cancelled. I am in the process of trying to convert these to virtual appearances but it is a very fast changing landscape as everyone knows.

 

 

  1. What other books have you had published, and what audience do you primarily write for?

 

I’ve published three books: Off the Rails (Penguin), On the Trail of Genghis Khan (Bloomsbury), and Tim & Tigon (Pan Macmillan). I write for a wide audience including those interested in adventure, travel, history, culture, and more recently animals.

 

 

  1. Most of your books are non-fiction or memoir – any plans for a fiction book, either based on your experiences or in another genre?

 

My COVID lockdown project is to fulfil another dream, which is to complete an illustrated picture story book about Tigon. I don’t intend to write fiction at this stage although that idea has always been brewing in the back of my mind.

 

  1. You present to schools a lot – what are some of the things you love about doing this, and what sort of things do you speak to students about?

 

In my talks to students I talk about the adventures I’ve been on, and the lessons I’ve learned – primarily from the people and lands I travel through. These lessons revolve around resilience, patience, friendship, grief, risk taking, and learning to embrace the unfamiliar.  I think it’s  crucial for young people to look at the wide variety of options that exist for pathways in life. By looking into cultures, lands, and people who are different from ourselves we can extend ourselves and our understanding of the world – and of course assess our place in it. I enjoy the type of questions and reactions that young people have. They don’t self-limit their imagination, or aspirations, and have a natural curiosity about the great unknown. For adults sometimes adventures can seem like crazy, dangerous projects for which there are untold reasons not to undertake in the first place.

 

 

  1. Your adventure dog is Tigon – where did you meet Tigon, and what sort of writing and adventure companion is he?

 

Tigon was born in a small village called Zhana Zhol (‘new road’) in Eastern Kazakhstan. (Rest of this question more or less answered in question 3).

 

 

  1. You’re also a film maker – what sort of films have you made in the past, and what do you have planned for the future?

 

 

I made a documentary for the ABC about my journey by recumbent bicycle across Russia to China. It was called ‘Off the Rails: On the Back Roads to Beijing.’ Following on from that I rowed a wooden boat through Siberia to the Arctic Ocean with three mates. We sold the footage to National Geographic who made a documentary film. In 2010 I directed and co-produced a three hour TV series for the ABC and for ARTE in Europe. It was called ‘On the Trail of Genghis Khan.’

All of my films to date have been based on my adventures with a focus on the people, culture, and lands that I travel through.

 

 

  1. Was there a certain book or film that you read or watched as a child that sparked your interest in taking on big adventures across the world?

 

 

When I was a teenager I watched Sea to Summit, a film about Tim Macartney Snape walking from the bay of Bengal to the summit of Everest. I later read classic adventure stories such as Arabian Sands (Wilfred Thesiger), and the iconic mountaineering book Into the Void (Joe Simpson). I knew then that adventure was what I wanted to pursue in life.

 

 

  1. When you’re not on treks or adventures and at home, what do you enjoy doing during these down times?

 

 

I love reading, spending time with family and friends, hiking, walking, cycling, and surfing. I follow politics closely, and try to study to improve my language skills (Mongolian and Russian).

 

 

  1. In all three fields you work in, which authors, explorers and film makers were your inspiration?

 

In terms of authors, my inspiration were both fiction and non-fiction. As an 18 year old I loved reading Tolstoy classics, as well as the above mentioned author Wilfred Thesiger. In terms of adventurers, Mountaineer Tim Macartney Snape was definitely a big inspiration, as were Australian modern adventurers Eric Phillip and John Muir. My passion was adventure filmography. Michael Dillon, who made Sea to Summit was someone I looked up to. Amazingly many years later Mike joined me briefly as a videographer on my trek by horse from Mongolia to Hungary.

 

 

  1. Adventuring, like writing, is often a solitary and isolated quest – do you feel that the impacts and feelings that come with each intersect, or are there differences in how isolated you are writing versus heading off on an adventure?

 

It’s a really good question. I think I’m a naturally introverted person. For me both writing and adventure offer time to reflect and digest in solitude. On an adventure I love being out there in new environments, meeting new people, then retreating to the wilds and the inner of my tent where I have solitude and my diary. I think the difference between writing from the confines of a house, and being on an adventure is that the adventure offers more of a rich sensory experience. Adventure for me is about seeking new experiences, and writing is about reflecting on them and learning from those experiences, and preparing myself for new ones.

 

  1. You also run group treks with World Expeditions – which of these treks are the most popular, and have any of these stories made it into your writing?

 

My most popular trek takes us through the Altai Mountains in Western Mongolia. The route roughly follows the trail I took in 2004 during the early phases of my trek from Mongolia to Hungary. I love returning there. People still live a life mostly free from mechanical transport. They live with the seasons, closely tied to the land.

  1. When you’re at home, which local booksellers do you enjoy visiting?

 

Well until recently I lived in North-East Victoria in a small village called mount beauty. So the nearest place for new books was the local library. I think libraries are an underestimated resource these days.

Having said that, I am now in Melbourne, and I do enjoy going down to Readings in Carlton from time to time. 

 

  1. Exploring and adventuring feels as far from the arts as it can get sometimes, but do you find that there is some intersection between the two industries?

 

Most adventurers that I have admired are people, like artists, who challenge society to think critically, and who have chosen an unconventional path in life. Adventure can take on so many meanings, but for me it is largely about the creative concept of that adventure. One I have come up with a theme, and driving question, I assess everything through that prism, much in the way that many kinds of art projects might be driven.  Yes I believe there is a very strong intersection between the arts and exploration.

 

  1. Once travel is open again, where do you hope to do your next trek?

 

I had a trek in New Zealand all planned before COVID came along, so I will probably be headed to the South Island as soon as its possible. I also look forward to getting back to some of my favourite local hunting grounds in the Victorian Alps and Wilsons Promontory.

 

  1. Have nomadic people always been an area of interest – and where did this interest first come from?

 

When I was a kid growing up in rural Gippsland, I often used to try to imagine the landscape pre-colonial times. My Dad had a book about indigenous Australian cultures and I spent untold hours gazing at the photos. I wanted to know what it was like to live more in rhythm with nature, rather than locked in to human constructs of time, space, and land. those same elements drew me to Nomadic culture in Mongolia many years later.

 

 

  1. Finally, what is next in terms of writing? Are you working on anything while you’re at home?

My upcoming project is to complete a picture story book for 4-6 year olds about Tigon.

Beyond that I would love to write a book about living in Mongolia for a year with nomads, or perhaps following the trail of the Roma people (Gypsies) from India to Europe.

 

 

Anything further?

 

Thanks Tim!

 

 

Starfell #2: Willow Moss and the Forgotten Tale by Dominique Valente

Starfell 2Title: Starfell #2: Willow Moss and the Forgotten Tale

Author: Dominique Valente

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia

Published: 20th April 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: The anticipated second book in 2019’s breakout magical fantasy series, Starfell, starring misfit witch Willow Moss. Perfect for readers of 8+ and beautifully illustrated throughout by Sarah Warburton.

Willow Moss, the youngest and least powerful sister in a family of witches, recently saved the world. The problem is, nobody can remember it – and, to make matters worse, her magical ability seems broken. Instead of finding lost things, objects keep disappearing against her will … which is especially troubling now that her friend Sometimes needs her help!

Sometimes has discovered how to see ten minutes into the future. Unfortunately that’s only enough time to find out that his kidnappers are on their way! His only hope is to write an urgent letter to Willow, asking if she wouldn’t mind trying to find him.

As Willow and her friends piece together what has happened to Sometimes, their adventure takes them from an enchanted tower to the magical forest of Wisperia and into dangerous new realms… Can Willow save Sometimes when her own powers are out of control?

~*~

Willow Moss is back – mourning the loss of Granny Flossy and trying to get along with her family. She saved the world, yet nobody really remembers – just Moreg Vaine, her new friend. Willow’s magical ability is to find things, yet that gift seems to be broken and she is making things disappear. When she finds out her friend Nolin Sometimes, needs her help, she sets out on a journey to Wisperia – a dangerous place people warn her against heading to. Yet adventure calls, and with Oswin, a cloud dragon and other companions by her side, Willow hopes she can find Sometimes and get her powers back under control.

After reading the first book, Willow Moss and the Lost Day earlier this year in March, I was hooked and wanted to find out what happened next. HarperCollins sent me the second book to review, and finally, I am managing to get my review up! Willow Moss is the kind of character girls need – not princessy, not frilly and not perfect. She has her flaws, and her strengths – both of which are shown equally throughout the novel, even though the kobold, often mistaken for a cat, Oswin, often berates her and is rather irate at times. He brings humour and fun to the story, and is a rather interesting character on his own, with a distinctive voice that stands out against everyone else.

Moreg Vaine is the one you never know what to expect from, yet seems trustworthy – she’s absent for much of this book, yet her presence is felt, as is Granny Flossy’s, and together, these elements combine to make an intriguing premise and sert of characters who guide Willow through her journey across Starfell and all the mysteries she has to solve and things that she has to find. This is the second book in a very promising middle grade series that has charmed me, and is sure to charm younger readers, and indeed readers of all ages.

It is an escape, and an adventure. A book to be devoured yet it is also one that can be savoured. There are delightful and fun elements within this book, coupled with magical and worrisome ones, but not too scary – just enough to have you on the edge of your seat, reading on to find out what happens next. And Willow explores her emotions – which is powerful and important for child readers. Her family is present, but in the tradition of middle grade books, we get rid of the parents – if only temporarily – so Willow can go on her adventures. This is a great series, and as a keen fan of these books and the gwnre, I am eager to see what happens next for Willow!

The Schoolmaster’s Daughter by Jackie French

schoolmaster's daughterTitle: The Schoolmaster’s Daughter
Author: Jackie French
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: HarperCollins Australia
Published: 18th May 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 384
Price: $17.99
Synopsis: Drawing on her own family history, this is a story from Jackie French about education in Colonial Australia – and how women once had to fight for their right to it.
January 1901
Sharks circle a stranded ship as a young girl and her family stagger from the waves …
Rescued by a Pacific Islander boy named Jamie, Hannah’s family begin a new life in Port Harris, which at first seems a paradise for the schoolmaster’s daughter. But local fortunes are built on slavery and the whip.
As the new Federal Parliament passes the law that will force Pacific Islanders from their homes, Hannah and her mother risk everything to run a secret school, while Hannah and Jamie must fight for their rights to education and equality. Can friendship and love win against prejudice and power?
Inspired by real events, this powerful new novel brings to life the bravery and battles of the past and gives us courage for the challenges of today.

~*~

As Australia becomes a nation, Hannah Ferndale and her family move to northern NSW town, Port Harris, where sugar cane farms are run using labour from Pacific Islanders, who are kept in slavery-like conditions. Hannah and her family are shipwrecked as they arrive at Port Harris, and are rescued Jamie, a young Pacific Islander boy, before they begin their new life, with Papa as the new schoolmaster.

Hannah longs to learn more than what she has been taught – and is ready for the next stage of her schooling. Yet as she attends school, she discovers that she is only there to help him teach the Infants kids to read and count, and write, and assist with her mother’s role in teaching music and sewing. When her mother starts teaching Hannah and Jamie secretly after he’s denied a place at the school, Hannah starts to learn more about the world than what she has experienced, as Jamie and his mother tell Hannah and her mother about their lives and the lives of the Islanders on the plantations. Their secret school is interrupted by a family emergency, and Hannah and Jamie try to continue, but she soon must return to her life teaching small children with no hope of moving forward beyond marriage.

As new laws are debated, and as Hannah has to attend to her duties as a good girl and live in a world she longs to change for the good for everyone. The country has been federated, and new laws about women’s suffrage and the status of Pacific Islanders on the farms up north. The Schoolmaster’s Daughter is based on Jackie’s own family history, which she explains in her author’s notes at the back. This makes the story so powerful – it is from the heart, and from a family, whose history and people have inspired many stories, and many novels, all of which are compelling in so many ways, and have a genuine, unique, and authentic voice that sings and shines through the words, characters and narrative.

AWW2020It is an ode to a new country, grappling with their identity and their people in 1901, themes that are still relevant today in 2020, as some issues still need to be resolved – such as racism. At the same time, it is a celebration of reading, words, education and poetry – something that unites Jamie and Hannah in Eliza’s absence, and they connect them in a way that society cannot understand or fathom. The words that they shared created a world beyond what they knew and showed how they each saw exploring the world – for Jamie, it was the ability to physically explore. Hannah was happy to explore via the page – both are valid – exploring the world and travelling the world can be done in both ways. During these times of the pandemic, most of us are travelling across the world, through time and into other worlds via the page. Reading in Hannah and Jamie’s world opens this door, and the door to better lives, to lives they long for and have so far only dreamed about.

I read this book in about two days – it was one where I just had to find out what was going to happen next, and how Hannah was going to achieve her goals. Jackie French books always teach me something new, and this book was no exception. It presented a world that we may not be familiar with and issues that feel distant but are not. It is a fantastic piece of historical fiction that I will

Isolation Publicity with Aleesah Darlison

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.

Aleesah Darlison is the author of League of Llamas – a series of four books aimed at younger readers that  has come out this year during the months of the pandemic. She’s had to cancel launches and all kinds of author appearances in the wake of the pandemic. She appears here to discuss her series, llamas and animals in writing.

League of Llamas: Undercover Llama

League of Llamas: Rogue Llama

LOL with 4 covers black

Hi Aleesah and welcome to the Book Muse! (thanks for having me!)

Aleesah llama books_March 2020
Aleesah and her first two books
  1. Like many of my participants, you write for children – what attracted you to writing for children more than adults, and which age group do you primarily write for?

I didn’t consciously start out writing for children. I think I eventually gravitated to the genre because I had young children of my own, and because my inner child needed to express herself! One day when I grow up, I might spread my wings and write for adults too. My favourite age groups to write for are 3 – 5 year olds with picture books then 6 – 12 year olds with chapter books and junior fiction.

  1. Where did the idea for League of Llamas come from, and was it a conscious decision to only write four books?

Several of my kids and their friends were obsessed with llamas and we started talking about them one day, bouncing ideas off each other until we came up with the concept of llama secret agents. Once I had that initial seed, I worked with it, developing characters and plots designed to make kids laugh out loud – it’s all about engagement factor, after all! League of Llamas, or LOL, for short works in with that idea. I did consciously develop ideas for four books and that’s what I pitched to my publisher, Penguin Random House. Four is my favourite number and it’s neat and tidy! I have plenty of other ideas for additional stories, so we can always add more.

 

  1. Llamas as secret agents sounds like it would be a lot of fun to read and write – what is it about llamas that you think is so funny?

Writing about llamas doing secret agent business and other silly things was so much fun! I often gave myself (and my editor) a giggle with the stories. I just loved working on these books. My llamas are stand-out characters – they have strong personalities and do naughty things. They’re giddy at times, they have great camaraderie, they have some admirable qualities but also they have many, many faults.

The llama main characters (Phillipe, Lloyd, and Elloise) are all convinced of their own positive attributes, but they’re not so good at recognising their faults, their foibles, and their idiosyncrasies. Being completely oblivious means they have no inhibitions and no boundaries. They don’t hold back so they can be entirely themselves, which tends to create rather hilarious moments.

  1. Following on from that – are llamas effective secret agents, and could our spy agencies utilise them as well as humans?

Absolutely! My llamas can create the best disguises (Phillipe goes undercover as a giraffe), Lloyd is unwavering in his loyalty to his fellow secret agents (he’s as cool as a cucumber under pressure – although he is ruled by his stomach and LOVES donuts), and Elloise is a force to be reckoned with (you have to watch her side-kicks and karate chops). Singularly, they may be vulnerable, but as a team they’re unstoppable!

  1. You’ve written over 50 books for children and young adults – what are the most common themes and characteristics you find appearing in each book?

There’s usually an animal or two or three (or more!) in my stories. My favourite things as a child were books and animals, so I guess it’s natural that I write about animals now that I’m grown up, well, sort of … I get to combine my two great loves and have fun doing it. This all means that I’m well-known for my stories that feature animals and the environment, as well as child self-empowerment, unicorns … and llamas, of course!

  1. Which animals are the most fun to turn into a character of some kind, and why?

All of them! There are so many adorable animals out there just waiting to be written about. As authors, we have an endless supply of potential characters in our animal friends.

  1. Animals are a common aspect in books for children – for both fiction and non-fiction. As a kid’s author and parent, what do you think draws children into books about and featuring animal characters?

Many animal species are familiar to children, so they have a sense of comfort and connection with them from the moment they open a book. Some are super cute and disarming too, a fact that’s helped along by how talented illustrators depict their subjects. I challenge anyone to resist a baby panda or koala or llama? It’s impossible!

IMG_8216
Aleesah reading to a llama

 

  1. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic did you have any launches, events, and appearances planned that had to be cancelled, and what were they for?

Oh, yes! Before the release of my League of Llamas Series, I’d been working for months to create numerous events and activities. The series was even featuring at a festival launch where we were going to have real live llamas for people to meet. I had bookings for to present League of Llamas workshops and talks at multiple festivals, schools, and libraries across Australia. Basically, I had five months’ worth of events and tours that had to be rescheduled. There was so much work put into setting up these events, then there was more work involved in rescheduling, and now there will be more work again in re-confirming and running those events once we defeat COVID. It’s been a challenge to say the least.

  1. What is, or are, your favourite things about school visits, and why these in particular?

It’s always the kids. They’re amazing and so full of fun and joy. They’re always eager, friendly, and welcoming.  Seriously, it’s one of the perks of the job to be able to work with kids.

  1. Do your kids inspire any of your stories and characters, and in what way?

All the time. Either with silly, funny, or clever things that they do or say and which I then translate some way into a book. Otherwise, it might be with ideas and information about things that they like that could form the basis of a story or character. Kids think in the most imaginative ways and come up can often come up with things that you just wouldn’t think of as an adult.

 

  1. You write series and stand-alone books – what are the challenges for each one, and which do you find the easiest to write, or at least, to get started on?

Each book has its own challenges. Sometimes a stand-alone story will simply flow onto the page, sometimes you have to push. With a series you need unique stories with the same characters so it can be tricky to maintain stamina over the long haul. Series are a lot of work because you’re often writing and editing multiple instalments at once and to multiple tight deadlines. Plus, you have to keep track of everything to ensure you’re not repeating yourself. Planning is paramount, so I’d suggest that if you really don’t like planning your stories that you don’t tackle a series.

  1. How far have you gone to research something for one of your books, and what has been the most interesting thing you’ve uncovered so far?

When I was first starting out, I was really into historical novels and went a long way towards writing two manuscripts (one biographical, one fiction). These manuscripts are yet to see the light of day as I still haven’t gotten them quite right. I’d go to the NSW State Library almost every day or night researching on microfiche and old  newspapers, digging up court documents and purchasing birth certificates and war records from the archives (which I still have). Historical novels are a huge amount of work! It was fascinating reading the court transcripts to a case that involved one of the real-life people I was writing about. Those transcripts showed so much of the reality of the world these people lived in and their personalities and back stories. It wasn’t just about the court case – it was their own relationships and personal interactions, the social mores of the time, and the prejudices people actually held and honestly believed they had a right to feel.

 

  1. You love llamas – would you enjoy having one as a writing companion, or would something like a cat or a dog be easier?

I’ve seen that people use llamas as yoga companions … so maybe they would work as a writing companion too. I’ve visited a lot of llama farms, so I have been up close and personal with them. If I had one of my own, I’m sure they’d make for great writing inspiration … but they would be tricky fitting in a house. So, I guess I’d have to go with a dog. I’ve had dogs as pets for years and they’ve always stuck by me with my writing. My current dog, Lexie, has a bed under my desk and she spends most days there if I’m writing.

 

  1. With each picture book, you seem to have worked with a different illustrator – how has that process worked with each book and illustrator?

Publishers choose the illustrator for a project and each story has a different feel or essence so requires a different style of illustration. Sometimes, I can suggest illustrators, but usually the publisher has a firm idea or preference for who they would like to work with on a project. Sometimes, I’ve known and met the illustrator. Sometimes, I’ve never met them or spoken to them. Illustrator choice often isn’t up to the author, it’s up to the publisher so authors tend to run with it. So far, it’s always worked out well for me!

  1. You also have two series for younger readers – Little Witch and Unicorn Riders – are there more books planned for these series?

No, those series are a little older now. Unicorn Riders was my second series (after Totally Twins) so came out about ten years ago. There are eight books in that series so while I thought I’d explored the unicorn stories in quite a bit of depth, I would have loved to create a companion series called Griffin Riders and based in one of the neighbouring kingdoms. Maybe one day I’ll get back to that idea!

 

  1. Are there any new series or stand-alone books planned for the future, or is there anything in the works right now?

I have ideas for other series that I’m currently developing, but – most exciting – is that my publisher, Penguin Random House, recently accepted a new picture book series from me so that will keep me busy for the next few years. We’ve currently got four books planned for that series, so I need to get cracking with the writing!

  1. I ask a question like this to as many people as possible – how do you think the arts will be impacted due to the pandemic, and what can people do to help?

From what I’ve seen and heard, many creatives have lost presentation work, which really supports us more than book royalties. On top of that, they’ve lost launch opportunities and book sales because book stores have had to close or don’t have any foot traffic due to self-isolation and lockdown restrictions. Then you have the potential for publishing contracts and new releases to be stalled or cancelled altogether. I haven’t heard much on that front yet, but it may happen.

The other impact is that, although many people have found themselves at home more and you’d think this means more writing time, the worry and stress of the virus or of losing income has depleted any ability to focus on creativity. Many authors like myself also have children who need to be home schooled, so we’re busier than ever before, but not with our writing.

There have been many negative impacts of COVID on the writing industry, as there have been for many industries. I think the main thing to focus on is that the restrictions and ‘hibernation’ won’t last forever and that if we can stay healthy and well, then we can pick ourselves up and carry on. Hopefully soon. And hopefully without losing too many talented creatives to the virus.

Social media and Zoom have been lifesavers in keeping us connected and supporting one another. The Australian children’s writing industry is a tight-knit group, so those connections are helping many us hang in there.

  1. Do you have a favourite local bookseller, and why this one in particular?

I’ve been supported by many booksellers over my career, so they’re all absolutely wonderful, they’re the life-blood of our industry. They work so hard! If I could name a few Sunshine Coast local ones it would be QBD Kawana, Harry Hartog Maroochydore, Annie’s Books on Peregian, Pages & Pages Noosa, and The Little Book Nook in Palmwoods.

  1. When not writing, what do you enjoy doing or reading?

 

I have a penchant for detective and crime stories and also Stephen King! I do tend to read a lot of children’s books too and I’m a sucker for a clever picture book.

  1. Finally, will there be more League of Llamas books for younger readers to enjoy?

Absolutely! Books 3 and 4 come out on 3 July. If kids and parents want to grab copies, they can order via www.penguin.com.au or they can visit QBD, Harry Hartog, and other booksellers OR purchase online at Amazon or Booktopia. Go the llamas!

Anything I may have missed?

Thanks Aleesah!

That’s it, thanks so much Ashleigh!