Literary Tourism: Travel in the Time of COVID

Once upon a time, the world was filled with people travelling across the world, from country to country, and basking in a variety of cultures and experiences. But one day, a nasty virus came and shut everything down. We had to hide away inside, and watch the world slowly change.

When this travelling stopped so suddenly, we had to find a new way to explore the world through entertainment and the arts. One place we turned to was books. Jhumpa Lahiri once wrote, ‘That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.’ This sentiment is relevant all the time, but more so during these COVID times. We can travel via books without leaving the safety of our homes during lockdowns and restrictions. Whilst this might make us miss travelling, the experience, at least for me, has been richer and imaginative. It has had a power that no other reading has ever seemed to have.

jhumpa lahiri 1

We read to escape, and to find a new way of thinking. During COVID times, I have travelled across the world, through time and to places beyond the known world. It has allowed me to imagine a 2020 without COVID in one instance, and to experience an exhibition that even under ordinary circumstances, I would have little chance of getting to experience.

 

I have travelled across Europe with Freja Peachtree and Tobias Appleby in The Girl, the Dog and the Writer series. I’ve been to Rome for gelato, Provence for cakes and pastry and merry-go-round rides, and Lucerne to see the alps, meet marmots and eat chocolate in a castle, all while a crime writer does research for his books with the willing residents of each place helping him.

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

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

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

These three books, published in a pre-COVID world in 2019, allowed me to travel to these places, and to live in the world. They are filled with colourful and richly imagined characters and settings. I felt like I was there, tasting the food and experiencing the villages and solving crimes with Freja, chasing Finnegan the Irish Wolfhound, and writing with Tobias.

Mummy Smugglers

Books can take us anywhere, and I’ve also travelled back in time, to nineteenth century Egypt with The Mummy Smugglers of Crumblin Castle by Pamela Rushby, where I spent time in Egypt and England during the 1860s. Each setting was rich and vibrant, and like the previous series discussed, allowed me to travel to a new world, and to a place untouched by COVID.

 

jane in love

I’ve also experienced a 2020 without COVID, in a book that was written and set for publication several months before the pandemic hit. I read this book during the first lockdown back in April, and admittedly, at first, it was a touch jarring to read about people touching and not socially or physically distancing in 2020. After a while, though, it felt like it was another world. What could have been. And perhaps that’s what books like this set in 2020 in a COVID-free world can offer. We can time travel, in a sense, to a 2020 without COVID. It is odd, and alien, yet at the same time a sort of comfort. Seeing what this year could have been can give hope to readers that things will get better. The book that did this for me was Jane in Love by Rachel Givney, which I also reviewed for the Jane Austen Society of Australia.

alice curiouser and curiouser

Using reading to travel also allows me to explore exhibitions that I might not be able to see in person. This year, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London was going to have an Alice in Wonderland exhibit, which has been rescheduled due to COVID. Under ordinary circumstances, I wouldn’t have been able to get to London to see it, but what made receiving the exhibition guide for Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser from Bloomsbury special, was not just being able to experience the exhibition, but being able to do so during a pandemic, because it cast a spell over an isolated world, and not only did it allow me to travel through the ever-changing world of Alice, but back to London, and feel like I was in a museum. It would be interesting to see if these kinds of exhibitions also offer an online visit for people who can’t get to museum, in the same way that book clubs and author meet-ups or book launches and bookstores have adapted deliveries, gone online via Facebook and Zoom and many other inventive ways to keep the literary landscape alive.

We won’t be doing much travel for a while, until we can get this pandemic under control, and even then, it will dramatically change – how travel changes is yet to be seen. For now, we can use books to travel. The above examples are just a few that have highlighted the power of books to let us wander the world and beyond that I have read so far this year. There have been many and listing them all would be quite a task. Each book offers a different journey. A different life to live and a different place to see. Books create travel and inspiration. Literary tourism is one way to travel for now, so go forth and see the world via books.

Battle of Book Week (Yours Troolie, Alice Toolie #3) by Kate and Jol Temple, illustrated by Georgia Draws A House

Battle of Book WeekTitle: Battle of Book Week (Yours Troolie, Alice Toolie #3)

Author: Kate and Jol Temple, illustrated by Georgia Draws A House

Genre: Humour, Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 4th August 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 208

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Alice Toolie – seriously famous Youtootuber – and her best enemy Jimmy Cook are back to fight another day in a whole new chapter of adventures from the CBCA award-winning writers of the Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers series.

Book Week is always the best week of the year! But when Alice Toolie and Jimmy Cook get involved, it’s set for disaster. From kooky costume ideas to accidental author visits, nothing is safe. It’s no wonder they’ve been fired as Library Monitors! The only way they’ll get their jobs back is by winning First Prize in the book parade. And that means working together. Can these two best frenemies leave their differences behind long enough to win the Battle of Book Week?

~*~

Alice Toolie is her school’s library monitor – but now her frenemy, Jimmy Cook, is also a library monitor, and neither seems to be happy about sharing these duties. With an author visit and Book Week approaching, the rivalry ramps up with their letters to each other in the library monitor notebook, and everything leads to something that sees them fired as library monitors – and determined to get their jobs back. What lengths will they go to so they can get their job back, and do their best to win the Book Week costume competition?

AWW2020Told in letters and notes, this is a fun and humourous read. It is the third in the series, but I found things easy to pick up, and would like to go back and read the other Alice Toolie books. Kate and Jol Temple have created a fun world, and story. With two distinct voices, it is accessible for middle grade readers of all ages and readerships and shows that sometimes the best solution is working together, and compromising, especially when things don’t go as well as you would like them to.

This Alice Toolie book is a celebration of books, in a humourous and fun way that kids will enjoy. There are many things kids will get out of this book, and I loved it – it has been years since I’ve been to a Book Week or the Scholastic Book Fair – and it felt familiar and fun, and a great joy to experience again through the eyes of these characters.

Using journal entries and letters to tell a story is something that needs to be done cleverly, and in a way that moves the story along – and Alice Toolie hits all these notes. It moves the story along and gives us enough of what has happened in between the letters to imagine what is happening. Finally, it evokes a sense of the characters – not only in the style of their handwriting, but in the way, they write and interact.     This makes the format work, as it allows the reader to get the most out of the book, and it is when these sorts of books work well in this way that I think they’re very effective and well-written.

A great book from Kate and Jol Temple.

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!

 

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!

 

 

Isolation Publicity with Wendy Orr

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.

NimsIsland_roughs

Wendy is the author of several books for children, including the Nim’s Island seriesDragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance – the latter are both set in Bronze Age Greece. 2020 marks the 21st Birthday of Nim Rusoe, and Wendy had to cancel lots of celebrations around this milestone. So she has agreed to appear here to celebrate, along with my review of Nim’s Island which appeared a few weeks ago.

Hi Wendy and Welcome to The Book Muse

  1. You’re a prolific writer, perhaps best known for Nim’s Island, which celebrates its 21st birthday this year – where did the idea for Nim come from, and what is the basic premise?

Nim’s Island is the story of a girl who lives with her scientist dad and various animal friends on a small, secret island. When her dad disappears on a research trip, Nim reaches out to an adventure writer for help – and they both discover more courage than they knew they had.

Nim was inspired by seeing a small rocky islet off the coast of Vancouver Island when I was eight or nine and deciding I’d like to run away and live on an island all by myself. When we got home – to a town in the landlocked Canadian prairies –  I started writing a story about an orphan girl who runs away to live on an island.

Then in 1995, after Ark in the Park won the CBCA book of the year, two girls wrote one week, each asking me to write a book about them. I said that I couldn’t do that, but I started playing the writer’s game of “What if?” “What if a girl wrote to an author and said “Could you please write a book about me?” and the author said, “No, because I’m a very famous writer who writes very exciting books.”  But what if the girl’s life was more exciting than the author’s?   I decided that the girl’s life was more exciting because she lived on an island, and after many bad drafts, remembered the feeling of writing the island story when I was nine, and Nim’s Island finally came to life.

  1. As a remarkable coincidence, the day we set this up, a review copy of the 21st anniversary edition of Nim’s Island appeared on my doorstep just before I sat down to write these questions. Did you have anything fun planned to celebrate Nim turning 21 that had to be cancelled due to the pandemic?

I was planning to do lots of birthday parties at various bookstores, which would have been fun.

  1. Were any other events – festivals, school visits – cancelled in the wake of the pandemic?

Yes, a few. I had less scheduled than usual because of some family events that had to take precedence.

I can’t wait to dive into Nim. I’ve also seen the movie with Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin – how do you think the movie differs to the books, or at least, the first book, which I think the movie was based on? The first movie is very close to the first book. The book doesn’t have the author’s interaction with her protagonist, as the movie does, but it makes so much sense to me I often forget that I didn’t put it in.

  1. Nim’s Island was the first Australian children’s book to be adapted for a Hollywood film – what was it like to be the first author to go on this journey, and how do you think the Australian adaptation with Bindi Irwin differs? Or is Nim’s Island the kind of place that could be situated anywhere in the world?

I was very lucky; I had a truly wonderful experience all through the production and film process. The producer Paula Mazur and I formed a firm friendship, and I ended up working on the first two drafts of the screenplay with her, as well as being a consultant. I think that there was a total of 10 days that we didn’t communicate with each other in the entire 5 year process – it was very intense, stimulating, and I learned a huge amount. I was on set twice, was very well treated by the stars as well as crew, and then was taken over for the Premiere at Graumman’s Chinese Theater and a short tour of the US. The whole thing was one of the greatest experiences of my life.

Return to Nim’s Island, starring Bindi Irwin as Nim, was loosely based on Nim at Sea. This book would have been horrendously expensive to film as I’d written it, so there had to be a lot of changes, but when I read the final screenplay, I loved it and felt it was very much a story that I could have written. It was filmed in the Gold Coast studios and hinterland, as the first film was, and of course Bindi was a natural for Nim.

Rescue on Nim’s Island  then had to work both as a sequel for the book, and for the people who’d seen the film and expected it to carry on from there. It took a bit of juggling but once I’d worked out what I wanted to do, it was a joy to play in that world again.

 

  1. You’ve also written two books – Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance – set in Bronze Age Greece. What was it about the Bronze Age that made you choose it as a setting?

It’s fascinated me from childhood – Rosemary Sutcliff’s Eagle of the Ninth was probably the most pivotal for me, but all of her work as well Mary Renault’s fed my obsession. Then when I first started writing seriously, about 30 years ago, I had a dream which led me to start researching the Minoans, an absolutely fascinating people.

Both of these novels incorporate free verse and prose – which to me, felt like you were drawing on the oral traditions of antiquity – was this a conscious decision? No, though I’m very pleased it feels like that.  Very little of the writing of Dragonfly Song felt like a conscious decision, although of course with Swallow’s Dance I knew that I wanted to do it the same way. I simply always heard Dragonfly Song in verse – I often hear my books in verse before I write them, but this time I was unable to persuade it to turn into prose. I felt the story was too complex and so eventually decided to write it in the combination that it is now. I was very sure that my publisher would say it was a terrible idea, but she said why not try it? So I did.

  1. How much research did you do into myths of the minotaur prior to writing Dragonfly Song, which very much felt like the journey of Theseus heading to thwart the beast of the labyrinth?

Quite a bit of reading different interpretations of the minotaur myths, and a huge amount on the Minoan civilisation. Swallow’s Dance required even more specific research, and I was lucky enough to receive an Australia Council grant to travel to Santorini and Crete to visit the archaeological sites and museums there and spend time with an archaeologist. Seeing the places in person was almost overwhelming.

  1. You’ve written everything from picture books to middle grad, young adult and as I just found out, you even have a book for adults! Are there any challenges in juggling different styles, genres and audiences, and do you have a preferred audience to write for?

It seems to be more that I find a story and as I work it out, it becomes obvious which genre or age group it needs to be for. If I could only choose one it would probably be middle grade.

  1. If you were to live on an island like Nim, what sort of island would it be, and what sort of shelter would you live in?

Nim’s suits me perfectly: a tropical island, lots of animal friends, and a small hut with internet connection…

  1. Have you won any awards for any of your books?

 

 

*coughs modestly. Quite a few. I’ll attach a list and you can choose which to mention.

Some of Wendy’s awards – she has won and been shortlisted for awards in Australia and America. We both agreed to just feature a handful of the awards she has won or been shortlisted for.

Winner:

Award for Children’s Literature (Dragonfly Song)

Australian Prime Minister’s Award for Children’s Literature (Dragonfly Song)

Australian Standing Orders Librarians’ Choice Award, Secondary Schools, (Dragonfly Song)

Environment Award for Children’s Literature, Australia (Rescue on Nim’s Island)

“Mits’ad Hasfarim” – “The March of Books” Israel (Nim’s Island)
Parent’s Guide  Children’s Media Award Winner (USA)

Puggles Award – Children’s Choice, Australia (Rescue on Nim’s Island)

 

Honour or Shortlist:

 

BILBY Award (Queensland)

CROW Award (South Australia)

Kirkus Reviews Best Middle Grade Books, USA
KOALA awards, NSW , Australia

NSW Premier’s Award: Children’s Literature;Community Relations

Rocky Mountain Award
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Crystal Kite Award

South Carolina Best Books for Young Adults

Speech Pathology Australia Awards,
Student Choice Picture Book Award (USA)

  1. How long have you lived in Australia, and what made you and your family choose to move here?

I married an Australian farmer while studying in London, UK, so it was obvious that we would move here when I finished college, which is what we did. There were a few unfortunate twists and turns after that, but we ended up managing to buy a farm eventually.

 

  1. Have any particular places in Australia inspired some of your works?

Spook’s Shack was inspired by the 5 acre bush block that we live on now. There was a very creepy shack here that seemed likely to be inhabited by a ghost.

  1. What did you do prior to becoming an author, and what made you decide to give writing a go and submit to publishers?

I was a paediatric occupational therapist. At lunch one day a friend told me she’d written a book and I thought, ‘I’ve always said I was going to write – when am I going to start?’ I was doing a postgrad course at the time but started writing the day after I mailed my last assignment. My dream was to write and work part time but after breaking my neck, I became a full time writer.

 

  1. Do you have any favourite writing companions, snacks or rituals?

My dogs remind insist that two walks a day is the most important writing ritual. I had started becoming a bit precious about favourite pens and notebooks, but since the pandemic started we’ve had family living with us, which includes two toddlers, and I’ve quickly gone back to being able to write whenever there’s a moment, with whatever’s at hand, much as I did when I started writing with two young children.

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

Walking – after being told that my injuries meant I’d never be able to go for a walk again, I’m constantly grateful that I can do it. I especially love beach walks. Singing brings me a lot of joy too. Apart from that, all very normal things – coffee with friends, seeing my family, travelling…  And of course reading, but that’s like saying breathing.

 

  1. Who are your favourite authors to read when you’re not writing?

I’m always working on a book, so I always keep on reading too. Lots of classics, a lot of literary fiction – and of course children’s books. I’m not good at choosing favourites, but a couple that I’ve loved lately were Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and There Was Still Love by Favel Parrett. I can’t wait to read the next Hilary Mantel – you can’t go past Phillip Pulman’s Dark Materials series.

  1. Do you have a favourite local bookseller where you live, and who are they? (multiple is okay too)

We’re incredibly lucky to have four great indie bookshops on the Peninsula – 5 if you count Frankston, which has Robinsons Books. Farrell’s Booksellers in Mornington; Petersen’s Bookshop in Hastings, The Rosebud Book Barn and Antipodes Book Shop in Sorrento – they’re each quite individual shops, different from each other except all run by passionate individuals with a great knowledge of books.

  1. Do you have any new projects in the works, and what do you think they will be?

How would I survive without new projects in my head? The next will be Cuckoo’s Flight, a third Bronze Age novel which will come out in March 2021. The others are too embryonic t be shared right now.

  1. The arts are always important, and is even more important now as we isolate from each other – what impact do you think the pandemic will have, and how can people help to support the arts, in particular the Australian arts industry?

I’m hoping that as people turn to the arts during their quarantine, they’ll realise how important arts are to their well-being at all times.  Like many authors and other artists, I’m offering some free resources but hope that people will also understand the need to support the arts that are supporting them. Most bookshops are processing orders and often delivering even while they’re closed, so I’d encourage people to buy from them rather than a multinational like Amazon – your local shop will be able to suggest suitable books for different tastes, so you’ll read books that you’d miss by shopping online. And of course that’s also a great way of supporting Australian authors.

Isolation Publicity with Dee White

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.

Dee White small author photo 2019 colour
Dee White has two books coming out, or that have come out during this pandemic – Beyond Belief, and Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Parent Training – she has discussed them both here in one of my longest interviews yet! So it is interesting and exciting to get so many different interviews and responses, and shows how diverse our writing industry is in many ways. Like many authors, the release of Dee’s books was affected by the pandemic, and events have been cancelled. Dee agreed to take part in my series to promote these books and hopefully reach her readers.

Hi Dee and welcome to The Book Muse!

1. You’ve got two new releases that I am featuring here – one of which I do have on order. Could you tell my readers about each of them?

Beyond Belief is a work of historical fiction inspired by the true story of Muslims at a Paris Mosque who saved Jewish children during WW11. It tells the story of eleven year-old Jewish boy, Ruben and his family who are fleeing the Nazis and French police after more than 13,000 Jews were arrested and taken to concentration camps during the Vel D’hiv roundup on 16 and 17 July 1942.

Eddy Popcorn also features an eleven year-old boy, but couldn’t be more different. Eddy Popcorn is contemporary, humorous illustrated fiction. Eddy has been grounded for the school holidays for not doing his homework. Faced with not seeing the beach, or his mates, for the WHOLE holidays, Eddy puts all of his frustration into a helpful book for kids: Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Parent Training.

2. Beyond Belief is the one I have on order, and was published in early April – can you tell my readers what it is about, and where the idea came from?

As I mentioned earlier, this book is inspired by a true story that I stumbled upon when I was researching another book, Paris Hunting. (Still a work in progress.) After the roundup, Ruben’s parents leave him at the mosque where they know he will be safe while they go looking for his sister Rosa who has been missing for some months. Ruben must wait for there for the infamous Fox who will take him to Spain to be reunited with his family. (The Fox is also inspired by a real historical character). At the mosque, Ruben must learn how to be a Muslim. One hint of his true identity and he’ll be killed, and so will the people trying to save him.

3. Following on from the previous question, Beyond Belief explores one of the untold stories of World War Two. What draws you to these kinds of stories, and how do you think we can get them into classrooms and mainstream discussions of history?

I feel like there’s so much we can learn from the past but also so much that we can relate to the modern world. Racism and propaganda are still issues we face today. In Paris and in other parts of Europe in the late 1930’s the Nazis instigated a campaign of hate against the Jews. They produced posters showing Jews taking over the world and stealing people’s hard earned money. They forced Jews from the ghettos to ‘act’ in films. They dressed them up in opulent clothes and forced them to walk past Jews dying on the streets of the ghettos to convince the general public that these people didn’t even care about their own race. It was all fake news, but people believed it. They used this propaganda to dehumanise the Jews so that when atrocities were committed against them, people wouldn’t step into help. They used these campaigns of hate to turn people against the Jews in much the same way that the Howard government used the fake ‘children over board’ campaign to turn modern day Australians against refugees. They tried to make us believe that parents were throwing their children overboard to save themselves and this was proven not to be true.

I think I’m drawn to these stories because they show the power of human kindness … and that we are all people, regardless of religious beliefs or place of birth. The interfaith solidarity between the Jews and the Muslims crossed all religious and historical boundaries. It was simply an example of genuine human concern for other humans. During the war there were examples of this all over the world between many different races. During my research I discovered an amazing organisation called I Am Your Protector. https://iamyourprotector.org/ I really believe in their ethos. They do amazing things. They are, “a community of people who speak out and stand up for one another other across dimensions of religion, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. Through our work, we transcend perceived lines of division between different communities and endeavour to change the way people view the “other”. We share knowledge, stories, and tools that inspire people to become each other’s protectors.”

In February, the Victorian Education Minister, James Merlino announced that the Holocaust would become compulsory learning for Years 9 and 10 and I think that’s a great start to bringing books like Beyond Belief into schools. With themes like racism and fake news, books like Beyond Belief aren’t just a way to examine the past, they’re also relevant today. I think that all we can do is try to get the word out about books like Beyond Belief (like you are doing with your blog) and through social and mainstream media to make schools aware that these books are available and how valuable they can be in the classroom. Publishers like Scholastic also provide curriculum-based teacher’s notes to help.

4. Your other new release, Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Parent Training, was released on the first of May – what is this about, and is it a stand-alone, or part of a series?

Eddy Popcorn’s character and story are inspired by my boys when they were around eleven or twelve. I love the ironic humour of kids at this age. Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Parent Training is about the pre-teen relationship between kids and adults – that time when kids are starting to question the world around them and whether parents actually have all the answers. I love this age because kids are starting to develop their own perspective on the world and it’s often very funny.

Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Parent Training is the first book in the series illustrated by Ben Johnston, whose illustrations are amazing. I’d never met or spoken to him, but he really seemed to connect with Eddy and his story. The second book in the series, Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Teacher Taming is coming out with Scholastic Australia next year.

5. With both of these books released in the midst of a pandemic, what events, launches and appearances did you have to cancel?

I had a launch at our local library and one at the Little Bookroom organised … and of course these were both cancelled. I had received a grant to do a month long artist residence at a remote regional Victorian school in May/June but this couldn’t go ahead either. I had planned a three-month book tour (in my caravan Luna) from Melbourne to Townsville and return with school, library and bookstore visits and events booked in Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast. I also planned to visit isolated regional areas because I feel they often miss out on having authors visit their towns and schools. All this had to be cancelled. There were also a number of writer’s festivals that had booked me to appear and these didn’t go ahead either.

6. Did you always want to be a writer, and what do you think you would have been if you hadn’t gone down the publishing road?

I wanted to be a writer since I was seven, but it wasn’t considered a ‘proper job’ at that time so when I left school I actually went into insurance, which I hated, and then marketing and advertising. From this I was able to get a job as a copywriter so at least I was writing and from there I went into journalism. But even when I was working in insurance, I still wrote in my own time. I was compelled to write. For me it has always been as essential as breathing.

7. What are the craziest, or most outlandish things you have done in the name of research for one of your books?

Probably doing a tour of the Paris sewers for Beyond Belief. It was certainly the smelliest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve also been up in a hot air balloon and invented and trialled my own weapons in the name of research.

8. Where have you travelled to research your books, and which of these places has been the most interesting or your favourite?

My research has taken me to different parts of Australia and the world including Amsterdam, New York and Paris. Paris would definitely have to be my favourite. The month I spent in Paris researching Beyond Belief (Thanks to a Creative Victoria VicArts grant) was amazing. Everything just seemed to fall into place. And the information I needed seemed to find me. I was given an interpreter, Laetitia for the sewer tour and she was so lovely. She also happened to be a Muslim who spoke Arabic and she helped me to verify the authenticity of the events I was writing about. Her next door neighbour was the mother of a Rabbin so Laetitia was able to get me into a synagogue in Paris as well.

9. When it comes to research – how do you begin your research process, and are some topics easier to research than others?

I usually begin my research online, but I always love to visit the actual place I’m writing about if I can. It’s definitely easier to find out about some topics than others. France didn’t actually acknowledge their part in the Holocaust until about 1995 and memorials came much later so it wasn’t that easy to find out some things. Beyond Belief was also emotionally hard to research because of the nature of the subject matter. It was just so awful to visit Holocaust centres and memorials and see the faces of babies and small children who had been murdered. It was also a deeply personal story for me because my father and his parents were forced to flee Nazi occupied Austria.

I’m currently researching an historical fiction set in Australia, The Explorer’s Niece, and that’s proving difficult too because there are discrepancies between the information I’ve uncovered. And two of the local historians were at odds over it and disagree on dates and events. The research process is never smooth sailing. There are always places where you stumble. But that’s part of the challenge and fun of it. I love research because you never know where it will take you and your characters. If I do research online I always try and verify its authenticity in some other way through museums, libraries or a local historical society or by visiting the place myself and talking to people.

10. You’re also a certified writing teacher. Do all your classes take place face to face, or do you also teach online, and how has this been affected by the pandemic?

I’ve been running online writing classes for kids for almost ten years now. My students come from all over the world … From USA, UK, Australia and India, to Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai, so that part hasn’t really been affected by the pandemic. But I also do face-to-face workshops and appearances at festivals, libraries and schools and these have all been cancelled. Also as I mentioned, my one month artist-in-residence, would all have been face-to-face workshops with students from prep to Year 8. I also mentor writers of all ages and this is often done via email so that hasn’t changed either.

11. Is the History, Mystery and Mirth tour still going ahead, or has it been cancelled or postponed – alternatively, has it been adapted into an online tour like some other festivals have?

Unfortunately I’ve had to cancel the tour for this year because of the closure of state borders and also schools are very busy at the moment with all the online learning. They have their hands full just trying to deal with the basic curriculum and paperwork and parents and technology fails etc. Perhaps I might be able to go ahead with tour next year. I’m currently in talks with the school I was going to be doing the artist-in-residence at, and hopefully that will go ahead in 2021. I am doing some online events still. I run the writer’s bootcamps at the CYA festival, which will be happening online in July. I’m also running an online workshop on creating compelling characters through SCBWI ACT on 28 June and that will feature Ruben from Beyond Belief and Eddy.

12. Who else is – or was – involved with the History, Mystery and Mirth tour?

I was organising this tour myself, but I’d scheduled a number of events through SCBWI in various parts of Australia and at a number of schools and festivals. And of course there was my artist-in-residence in Yarrawonga, which was to be part of the tour.

13. Apart from novels for children and young adults, have you had any other writing published elsewhere?

I’ve had many articles published in newspapers and magazines and online and I’ve written for a number of blogs. I started the Kids’ Book Capers blog at Boomerang Books and as well as my own blogs I ran a blog for a school for four years. When my kids were 2 ½ and 8 months old, we travelled around Australia in tents (with the family dog) for about 18 months and as we travelled I wrote articles for publications like Practical Parenting, Good Weekend and Go Camping.

14. Do you have a favourite writing companion or spot to write your novels in?

My goat Molly used to be my muse but sadly, she passed away when she was 14. I’m a bit of a nomadic writer and don’t have a single place that I work. I love writing outside and I love being in the location that I’m writing about and immersing myself in the setting.

15. Do you prefer to write with a notebook and pen, or on the computer, or a combination?

I always start out writing with a notebook and pen. It’s more portable and works well outside because I don’t have to worry about screen glare. Even in the editing process, if I have to rewrite a section I tend to do it with a notebook and pen. It seems to make it easier for me to immerse myself and connect more closely with my story and characters.

16. Do you have a favourite bookseller you’re trying to support during these tough times?

That’s a really hard one. All the booksellers are amazing and having a difficult time too. My local bookseller New Leaves doesn’t have an online store, but you can post your order through a slot in their front door and they deliver to your door. (Good old fashioned country service) Squishy Minnie is also wonderful. They’re in the next town and they have an online store and they have gorgeous books for kids and teens. And I love The Little Bookroom who are always so supportive of me and other creators and they have my books in store and online as well. Collins Booksellers in Sunbury always so enthusiastic about my work too.

17. Which authors or books are you always drawn to?

I love books with heart and a touch of humour and a bit of mystery … and of course, history as well. I love Bren MacDibble’s books because they have so much heart and originality and her characters are always so memorable. Wendy Orr’s books are like that too and I particularly like her historical fiction like Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Kathryn Gauci is also an amazing author who writes adult historical fiction. I love Rebecca Stead’s books and Jessica Townsend and Nova Weetman and Chrisse Perry and Adam Wallace and Michael Gerard Bauer. There are just so many wonderful books and authors out there.

18. Many authors I have interviewed have also been involved in reading, writing and literacy programs – is this something you do as well?

I have worked in schools and with individuals on a voluntary basis, helping with reading, writing and literacy, but I’m not associated with any particular organisation.

19. Are all your books published by one publisher, or do you work with different publishers?

I work with different publishers. Beyond Belief and Eddy Popcorn are published by Scholastic, my picture book Reena’s Rainbow is published by EK books, I’ve had books published by Pearson Australia and my YA novel Letters to Leonardo was published in Australia by Walker Books and by Mazo Publishing in USA and UK.

20. How would you like to see people supporting the arts and artists in this time, and beyond the pandemic?

The best way that people can support the arts and artists is to engage with art and spread the word about it. Buy books and music and artworks. Go to live shows and festivals and if you like what you read, heard or saw, tell people about it. One of my local bookstores keeps selling out of Beyond Belief and that’s because people keep recommending it to others. Of course reviews are great too. If you like a book, review it on Goodreads or online bookstores.

21. What books do you have planned for the future?

I’m working on Eddy 2 – Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Teacher Taming, and I have another historical fiction, The Explorer’s Niece. I’m working on Paris Hunting which is the book I was working on when I stumbled across the story that became Beyond Belief. I also have another historical fiction in the pipeline, Canary Girl and another humorous junior fiction work in progress, Will Smite the Nearly Fearless Knight. So plenty to stop me from getting bored!

Anything you wish to say that I may have missed?

Wow, thank you for your great questions and for having me on your fabulous blog.

I have a Youtube channel  and you can find out more about me at my website  or on social media at Dee White Author.

The other thing I wanted to mention is that I’ve been making Pop Motion videos (stop motion videos using popcorn) for Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to the Apocalypse and it is so much fun! In his pop motions, Eddy shares his experiences and tips on how to survive the pandemic. Eddy’s pop motions can be viewed on my Youtube channel and through Eddy’s page on my website. I’m also happy to do workshops in schools about using pop motion as a storytelling tool.

Thanks Dee!

Isolation Publicity with K.M. Kruimink, Vogel Award winner 2020

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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.

image001

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.

 

A Treacherous Country

 Katherine is the winner of the 2020 Vogel Award with A Treacherous Country, which I am really looking forward to reading and reviewing. This is one book that due to its secrecy due to the prize announcement, did not have much publicity planned, so this is one interview that is helping to get it out there. Katrina had some fun with these questions as all my participants have, and I enjoyed finding out about her book, and her reading  and writing life.

 

Hi Katherine, and welcome to The Book Muse

 

  1. First, congratulations on winning the Allen and Unwin Vogel’s Literary Award. Where did you hear about it, and what made you decide to enter?

 

Thank you very much, and thank you for including me in The Book Muse!

I’m not sure exactly where I heard about the Vogel’s; I’ve known about it for years. Every year I’ve thought to myself ‘Is this the year I enter?’ and last year was it. I had an infant daughter, and I was so exhausted I was hallucinating. I’d be sitting up in bed, holding the baby, and getting annoyed with my husband that he wouldn’t take her so I could sleep. He’d say, ‘Darling, the baby you’re holding is imaginary. I’ve got our baby. You can sleep.’ I really needed something to do with my mind, so I googled the Vogel’s and saw that I had about eight months until the deadline. I felt the value for me in entering would be in the deadline and the wordcount: it would really compel me to complete something. So I did! I needed a bit of structure in my life.

 

  1. Your winning manuscript, A Treacherous Country, was published this year – can you tell my readers about your book, and the history and people behind the story?

 

A Treacherous Country is set in Van Diemen’s Land in 1842. The narrator is a young Englishman who has been sent to find a woman called Maryanne Maginn, who was transported there decades before. He’s very pliable, though, and easily led, and has won a distracting pair of newfangled harpoons in a card game. Through the harpoons, he gets caught up in the world of shore-based whaling. On his journey, he reflects on the situation he left behind at home – the young woman he proposed to, and his family of origin – and comes to the point where he realises he has to adjust his perception of things, and make a decision. I like an air of mystery, and keeping some facts back, so the young man’s motivations are revealed slowly.

The whaling industry was in decline around the time I set my novel, because the species was being hunted out. Nowadays, however, southern right whales are being seen with increasing frequency in Tasmanian waters. I remember standing on a friend’s verandah and watching a whale and her calf slowly swim north. It spurred me to think about how long their memories are. They almost became metaphorical for me.

  1. Tasmania seems to be getting a lot of attention lately – what do you think it is about Tasmania that is sparking so many different stories?

 

I feel like there are probably many elements to this! A significant aspect of it, I think, is that being from a small place has a kind of distinction to it, just because it’s something you share with relatively few other people. If you add to that the fact that we’re on an island, this becomes intensified. The isolation is both physical and conceptual. That tends to make its mark on your identity, for better or worse.

Another is that Tasmania, in many ways, feels like a microcosm of a larger place: we have big stories, and deep, dark histories, but it’s all condensed into a small place, so it feels more immediate.

As for why it’s getting more attention lately…I do think that people are increasingly drawn to the relative seclusion and safety Tasmania seems to offer. There is a kind of comfort in being on a little island off a bigger island, tucked away in the Tasman Sea.

 

  1. The Vogel’s announcement had to be made online due to the COVID-19 pandemic – what other events did you have to cancel or put on hold surrounding publicity for your book?

 

It’s hard to say, because the secret nature of my book meant that we didn’t have much publicity lined up. The party was definitely the big one!

 

  1. Prior to entering the Vogel’s, did you think about submitting to other prizes or publishers?

 

Not this manuscript, because I wrote it specifically for the Vogel’s. But I have certainly submitted other (shorter) works for consideration elsewhere.

 

  1. What drew you into the genre of historical fiction, and is the story in A Treacherous Country based on known facts and stories, or did you go searching for these facts to craft your story?

 

I’m drawn to strong stories, rather than a particular genre. I love a story with resonance. I love it when things clunk into place, and you think ‘Ah, of course!’. It’s just that this story was necessarily grounded in the past.

It really did unfold organically for me. It’s not based on known stories, but I tried to be as factual as possible. I allowed myself great scope for invention, but checked up on every invention so that it would be rooted in plausibility – was it possible? How would it have looked? How would it have been explained?

 

  1. How important is authenticity of the voice of your story and characters to you, and by extension, the reader?

 

It’s pretty important. I wanted to create a natural-feeling world, inhabited by real and likely people. I wanted my narrator to feel familiar: like a tangible person who happens to be living at a certain point in time.

 

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

 

I love walking, reading, and creative pursuits like knitting and drawing. I quite like cooking, but really only because I like eating and sharing food. I love a glass of wine, and movies. But listing all these things feels a bit like I’m pretending my life is this slow and elegant series of quiet pursuits. Mostly I’m playing froggies with my daughter – or horsies – or doggies…and enjoying the cognitive dissonance of eating golden syrup dumplings while wearing tummy trimmer jeans.

 

  1. Do you also read historical fiction, or do you prefer reading a different genre to the one you write in?

 

Yes, I love historical fiction! I don’t limit it to that, though. I love a compelling mystery. I love a good classic, or sci fi, or the kind of contemporary drama that inevitably gets described as ‘searing’ or ‘luminous’ or ‘searingly luminous’. Whatever’s good.

 

  1. Prior to entering this prize, had you written anything else, worked in the arts in another capacity, or is this novel completely different from what you had been doing previously?

 

Yes, I’ve had a couple of publications with the excellent Going Down Swinging, and a couple of other publications too long ago to mention. Both pieces I’ve published with GDS are set in the future, actually. One is set in a post-apocalyptic Hobart, and the other in an imagined sort of neo-noir neon city. This novel is different in genre, but similar in that I’m interested in the challenge of telling human stories within a context that creates a degree of remove – like the future or the past. I love anything with a sense of the strange.

 

  1. Do you have a preferred writing method?

 

I started typing ‘Half-drunk and at 3 am,’ but only out of habit. My twenties are over. I write on my laptop, and I’m good for short bursts. I might do forty-five minutes, go and make a cup of tea, and do another forty-five. Or an hour, and then a walk, and then another hour, and then binge-watch a whole season of Buffy. That kind of thing.

 

  1. How much research do you like to, or feel you need to do before putting the first words of the story onto paper?

 

I do it as I go. I tend to get the spark of inspiration from something, find the voice, and find the fabric of the story, and that leads me to the research I need to do. I love the different directions the research takes me. For instance, I did a lot of reading about language for this novel. There was a great deal of delving through quotations in the OED to check the use and age of various words and phrases. And then I found myself looking through old newspapers on Trove looking for advertisements to work out the prices of things, and what people found useful. Next I’d be looking at diagrams of rowing boats and sketches of different kinds of harpoons. And in between, always, writing.

 

  1. Do you have any favourite authors who have inspired you?

 

Oh god yes. For a while I was quite a derivative writer; I’d read something that got me so excited I’d race off and start writing in that style. That’s OK, that was just part of the process of finding my own voice. But writers like Hilary Mantel and Kazuo Ishiguro will always make me want to write like them!

 

  1. Now that you’re working in the arts, what is it like to be in this industry?

 

It’s wonderful, but I don’t think I can answer with any real depth because apart from small forays into publishing, this is new to me.

 

  1. Do you have a favourite bookseller and which books have they recommended to you that you have loved?

 

Hobart has some really great bookshops! There’s the Hobart Bookshop, Fullers, Cracked and Spineless, the State Bookstore…all favourites. I’m pretty self-directing when it comes to reading, so I can’t recall any specific recommendations, although I’m sure there have been!

 

  1. The cover of your book is amazing – what was it like the first time you saw it, and do you feel that it captures the essence of your story?

 

It was wonderful! I felt quite awestruck at the skill and style of Sandy Cull, the designer. It made the book feel more tangible. It was at a time when we were discussing changing the title, and seeing the new title in all its glory like that made me really feel like it was the right choice.

 

  1. You reference Greek mythology at the beginning of the novel – and Homer’s Odyssey – what bearing does this have on the novel?

 

There’s the obvious correlation of a person on a quest, and I’m sure other similarities could be drawn. But I’m not very fond of Odysseus! I don’t mean to downplay the importance of Homer (that would be silly), or the wonderfulness of the Odyssey and the Iliad, but I wouldn’t want to write about Odysseus. My narrator references the Odyssey because he has the scraps of classical knowledge that have come from being a well-brought-up but not particularly well-educated 19th century gent, and he doesn’t have much life experience of his own to rely on.

 

  1. Following on from the previous question, would you say this element suggests this is an Australian retelling of the Odyssey?

 

I wouldn’t say that, although I suppose any story of a journey might invite comparison to Homer. I suppose a key difference between my book and the Odyssey – apart from personality and stage of life – is that Odysseus is actively journeying home, and my narrator is journeying towards a less tangible end.

 

  1. How long did it take you to write this novel, from germination of the idea to the finished product?

 

About eight months, from when I googled the Vogel’s award to about twenty minutes before midnight on the final day it was open.

When I first started working on something to submit, I looked at a manuscript I’ve been working on for years. For my state of mind at the time, I actually found it too difficult – just not the thing that was really working for me. I found a little, unimportant side character I’d written about in that original manuscript, and expanded and developed his story into A Treacherous Country. So while it was new, the idea did grow from an older idea.

 

  1. Do you have more novels planned for the future?

 

I do! I’m working on that older manuscript I mentioned in the previous question. It means a lot to me, and I think about it a great deal. I just wasn’t in the right headspace for it last year. And there are other things on the go – it would never do to have everything finished and be able to get a good night’s sleep, after all.

 

Any comments about anything I may have missed?

 

 

Thank you Katherine, and best of luck with future writing,

 

 

 

Isolation Publicity with James Foley, Author and Illustrator

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.

James Foley is a children’s author and illustrator, who has illustrated anthologies, written for anthologies and published several of his own books, including the current series, Toffle Towers, which was written by Tim Harris. So far, James hasn’t had to cancel or postpone any events yet. Yet getting the perspective of author-illustrators was something that interested me, and I wanted to expand this series to other authors as well if they were interested. It’s always interesting to hear the different stories behind the books and creations.

Hi James, and welcome to the Book Muse!

  1. You’re a writer and an illustrator – what came first – writing books, or illustrating?

When I was a kid I was always doing both. I was making little short stories, picture books and comics; they were two sides of the coin for me.

 

  1. Your new series is Toffle Towers – of which I have just ordered the first two. What is Toffle Towers about, and where did the idea come from?

Toffle Towers is about a 10yo boy called Chegwin Toffle who inherits a hotel. As the new manager, he has to find a way to bring in new customers or the hotel will close down and all the staff will lose their jobs. It’s written by Tim Harris and illustrated by me; I’m not exactly sure where Tim got the idea, but I know that the British comedy Fawlty Towers was an inspiration.

 

  1. Toffle Towers is aimed at middle grade readers – are all your books and series aimed at this age group, and if not, which ones are for younger or even older readers?

Some of my books are aimed at middle grade – definitely Toffle Towers, as well as my graphic novels series S.Tinker Inc. There are three books in that series so far: Brobot, Dungzilla and Gastronauts; the fourth is called Chickensaurus and is out this October. The series stars Sally Tinker, the world’s foremost inventor under the age of twelve, and follows her adventures in invention.

I’ve also done picture books for younger readers – The Last Viking, The Last Viking Returns, In The Lion – and a picture book for older readers called My Dead Bunny. The sequel to that, There’s Something About Lena, is out this October.

 

  1. You write graphic novels as well – is this more of a challenge than novels?

I wouldn’t know – I’ve never written a novel. A novel would be a bigger challenge for me because I’ve never written anything that long that was predominantly words. A graphic novel has its own challenges; there are just so many pictures to draw.

  1. Do you do your own illustrations in your work, or do you work with other illustrators, or both?

I’ve mostly worked as an illustrator for other authors. When I’ve been the author, I’ve always done my own illustrations.

  1. Toffle Towers 2 has just come out – did you have any events or launches planned around the release, or any events and appearances in general?

I know Tim did. Most of my gigs are booked for later in the year, and they’re mostly still booked (for now – fingers crossed).

 

  1. As a children’s author, I imagine school visits are important. Did you have to cancel any, and secondly, what do you enjoy about these visits?

I haven’t had to cancel any yet, but it might still happen- it depends if the social distancing restrictions are lifted by August. I enjoy being able to meet my audience, to encourage them to make their own stories, and to make up stories together – it’s so much fun.

 

  1. Many middle grade books now have illustrations – I think this is a really interesting trend, and not something I remember after I reached a certain age in my books – what do you think has driven this trend, and where did you first notice it?

I’ve no idea. It’s been a thing for a while now. I don’t have anything interesting to say on this question, haha

 

  1. Have you ever contributed to any anthologies, and what have these been?

Yes, I contributed to Total Quack Up in 2019, a fundraiser for Dymocks Children’s Charities; also Funny Bones in 2020, a fundraiser for War Child Australia.

funny bones

  1. Have any of your books ever won any awards?

They’ve been nominated for a bunch; the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Book of the Year awards, the children’s choice awards, the Aurealis awards; I’ve had a book selected for the International Youth Library’s White Ravens List.

  1. Are there any literacy related charities you support, and what made you choose these ones?

 

I support Room To Read and Books In Homes Australia. Both aim to get books into the hands of kids who might not otherwise have access to them.

  1. You’ve worked with Disability in the Arts/Disadvantage in the Arts Australia (WA) – what was this experience like for you, and has working with places like this and Indigenous organisations informed your writing in any way?

It taught me that art is a great leveller; lots of people like to draw and paint when given the chance. It’s taught me to be grateful for my skills and to try to share them as much as possible.

  1. Apart from creating your awesome stories of course, what is your favourite thing about being a kid’s author?

Hearing from kids who really enjoyed your stories.

  1. Favourite illustration medium and method to work with?

I’m mostly working digitally these days – I use a Wacom cintiq digital display and Adobe Photoshop software. But if I’m working traditionally, I love some big sheets of paper and charcoal, and I also love pen and ink and watercolour.

  1. Favourite way of writing – pen and paper or tapping away at a keyboard?

Pen and paper first to get down ideas, then the keyboard to edit and finalise.

 

  1. What has SCWBI done to help you in your career?

 

Heaps. It’s been my support network, it got me my first gig, it helped me meet editors and publishers across Australia. It’s been absolutely vital.

 

  1. What has been your favourite writer’s festival?

They’ve all been great but a few have been extra special. I did Brisbane Writer’s Festival a few years ago and spoke to some massive crowds; I did the Whitsunday Voices Youth Literature Festival and spoke to some big crowds there too. I’ve done some great regional festivals in WA as well, including one in Geraldton – that included a little plane ride and an overnight stay at the Abrolhos Islands. And there was a little festival on Bruny Island in Tasmania – that was spectacular.

  1. Working in the arts, what has been something you have noticed about the importance of the arts for all ages, and the way people interact with the arts?

I’ve noticed that lots of adults say they can’t draw, ‘they can’t even draw a stick figure’. They can draw, they just need to learn how. I’ve noticed too that most primary school kids LOVE to draw, and when you can take them through a drawing step by step, they feel really proud. I think most people see drawing as some kind of magic skill, but when you teach people how to do it, you demystify it, and it gives them a great sense of achievement to be able to do it.

 

  1. You illustrated the Total Quack Up books – how did Adrian and Sally decide your style worked best for the stories?

I don’t know why they chose me – I’m glad they did though. It was a lot of fun and it led to me working on the Toffle Towers series.

 

  1. Finally, what have you been doing to help kids with isolation in terms of reading, literacy, fun and homeschooling?

I’ve been working with Littlescribe to provide some free online creative writing lessons. They’re on the Littlescribe facebook page and youtube channel. You can check those out here:

I’ve also done a session with my local indie bookshop, Paper Bird Children’s Books and Arts; it’s available on their youtube channel.

Any further comments?

Thank you James, and good luck with Toffle Towers!

Isolation Publicity with Madelaine Dickie

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.

Madelaine Dickie is the author of Troppo and Red Can Origami. Like many authors, she had launches and events cancelled surrounding the release of her book. Whilst this is disappointing for authors, giving them an opportunity to virtually promote their books here and as some publishers and booksellers have done, will help with the release.  

Hi Madelaine, and welcome to The Book Muse

 

  1. To begin with, what genre do you usually write in, and what audience do you primarily focus on?

 

My audience, my readers, love racy plots, gorgeous language and vivid characters. They’re deep thinkers, who are empathetic, curious and not afraid to question the status quo. They also love a good dash of danger—a flirtation with risk!

I write across a number of genres and forms. My early publications were mostly poetry and creative non-fiction, my first novel is a surf-noir thriller, my second novel is literary fiction, and I’m currently working on a biography, a 14,000-word essay on art and violence in Mexico, and a crime novel.

 

 

Madelaine's second novel, Red Can Origami, was released by Fremantle Press in December 2019
Red Can Origami was released by Fremantle Press in December 2019

 

 

  1. Your latest novel, Red Can Origami, is about the conflict between a Japanese mining company and a local Aboriginal group in northern Australia – what inspired you to write this story?

 

I spent about six years living and working for Traditional Owners in the Kimberley, first in Broome, then in Wyndham. It was a privilege to reside in a living cultural landscape, where people have a continuing and powerful connection to country. Through my work, I had the opportunity to attend native title consent determinations, Indigenous Protected Area celebrations, back to country trips and huge bush meetings attended by hundreds of people. Red Can Origami came out of these wonderful and wild years. The book has serious subject matter, but it’s also funny and fast-paced, and the action flies from the rodeos and fishing holes of northern Australia, to the dazzling streets of night time Tokyo …

 

 

  1. Did you have any events related to your book or books planned for this year before everything had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic? What were they, and which were you most excited about?

I was really looking forward to all of my events. They included talks for the City of Fremantle; Melville Library; Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival; and Corrugated Lines up in Broome.

 

  1. You’ve travelled to Japan, Mexico, and many African countries – how have these trips informed your writing, and do you have a favourite place you’d love to go back to one day?

 

Martha Gellhorn spoke of countries being like lovers. For me, Indonesia was my first love affair—passionate, troubled, exhilarating, exhausting. I’ve spent about three years in Indonesia all up on different trips. It’s where I wrote my debut novel Troppo. Troppo is set in Sumatra and is about mad Aussie expats, black magic and big waves.
Now, my tastes and interests are shifting. In Mexico last year, I wrote a non-fiction essay about representations of violence in Mexican textile art and lithographs, as well as manifestations of violence in the surf culture. This is coming out in an anthology with Fremantle Press in 2021 and I’ll be allowed to share more details soon.

I think generally, travelling has always meant the space to write, the space to dream, to think, to read, to drift, and to reflect with some objectivity on my own country, on Australia, on our strengths and shortcomings.

I’d love to go back to Pavones in Costa Rica, and one day, I would love to visit Angola and Equatorial Guinea.

 

  1. When did your writing journey begin with Fremantle Press?

 

My journey with Fremantle Press began when I won the City of Fremantle T.A.G Hungerford Award for Troppo in 2014.

 

Madelaine's first novel Troppo won the City of Fremantle Hungerford Award
Madelaine’s first novel, Troppo, won the City of Fremantle Hungerford Award in 2014

 

  1. Have you won any awards for your writing, and what are they?

 

At university, I won the Illawarra Mercury Journalism Prize and the Nicholas Pounder Prize. I received a Prime Minister’s Asia Australia Endeavour Award to write the first draft of Troppo in Java … and the book went on to win the Hungerford Award, as well as to be shortlisted for the Barbara Jefferis Award and the Dobbie Literary Award. Red Can Origami was written in Tokyo, at Youkobo Art Space, with the support of an Asialink Arts Residency.

 

  1. Do you prefer writing with pen and paper, or on the computer, and why?

 

I write in pen or pencil on blank sheets of A4 paper. This slow form of writing lends itself to stronger, more poetic work. It gives me the chance to see how the words within a sentence settle next to each other. I write and rewrite and rewrite until the rhythm is exactly right.

 

  1. Apart from Troppo and Red Can Origami, have you written anything else in either short or longform that has been published?

 

My first short story won a national competition and was published when I was seven years old. I wrote it on a typewriter and my dad helped me with the editing! Since then, my short stories, radio stories, poetry, essays and creative non-fiction pieces have consistently been published, mostly in Australia, and sometimes overseas. While I was in Japan, I wrote a piece titled ‘Wandering the Yellowcake Road’ about my journey through parts of the Fukushima Da’ichi Nuclear Exclusion Zone. If you Google the title, you should be able to find this one online, published by Coldnoon International Journal of Travelling and Travelling Cultures.

 

  1. Have you ever appeared at, or attended writer’s festivals, and have there been any that have stood out for you?

 

I was invited to Makassar International Writers Festival in 2017, organised by Lily Yulianti, and presenting in Indonesian was an incredible (and challenging!) experience. I was inspired by how many young people were in attendance. They were curious, engaged, energised and intelligent. It was really different to the vibe at writers’ festivals in Australia.

 

  1. How important do you think the arts are in society, and what can people do to support them in these difficult times?

 

I think literature is crucial to our contemporary society. Literature is our memory, our history, and our mirror. I hope people are able to keep reading. My reading has suffered a blow since the coronavirus pandemic—I’m spending more time on that endless scroll of Facebook, or Instagram, or news, and finding it harder to focus, to lose myself.

 

  1. Do you have any favourite booksellers you support in your local area?

 

I live in Exmouth, a remote town on the Ningaloo Reef of Western Australia, and I’m very pleased to have the support of The Social Society and Exmouth Newsagency and Toyworld. They both stock copies of my books!

 

  1. Who are your favourite authors and/or books?

 

I love the work of Barry Lopez, Don Winslow, Thea Astley, James Crumley, Antonio Lobo Antunes, Merlinda Bobis, Ludmilla Petrushevskya and Denis Johnson.

 

Madelaine's writing schedule is structured around tides, winds and the arrival of swells. Photo by Aimee Jan.
Madelaine arranges her writing schedule around tides and swells. Photo by Aimee Jan

 

  1. Other than writing, what do you enjoy doing during your spare time?

 

I’m a surfer—and not a summer surfer, or a sometimes surfer. My writing days and weeks are structured around tides, winds and the arrival of swells. Many of our surf spots here are boat access only, and my best days in the surf are off the reef with my girlfriends. They’re amazingly capable water women—they have their skippers’ tickets, can 4WD, own their own boats, and are incredibly brave. When I’m not surfing or writing, I like going for long walks through the desert with my husband, and I like drinking cold white wine on hot desert evenings.

Red Can Origami came out of six years living, working and fishing in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.
Red Can Origami came from 6 years living, working and fishing in the Kimberley region of WA
  1. Working in the arts, what have you learned from others in the industry, and have you been able to apply this to your own work?

 

My greatest lessons have been from the masters—from writers who push the boundaries of form and of language. From the way Beckett finds rhythm in minimalism, to Joyce’s bold and shameless play, to Kurniawan’s quirky narrative structures, writing is a constant learning process. I have also learned a great deal from Georgia Richter, my wonderful editor at Fremantle Press.

 

  1. What do you think the most important thing the arts can bring to people in these trying times?

 

I think the arts can bring escapism and hope, can prompt reflection and contemplation.

 

  1. Do you have any other novels in the works, and when do you hope to be able to release them?

 

I’m currently working on a biography of the Kimberley Aboriginal leader Wayne Bergmann.

Wayne is a Nyikina man, a boiler-maker welder, a lawyer, and a former finalist in the Western Australian of the Year Awards.

He has rubbed shoulders with Queen Elizabeth, the King and Queen of Sweden, as well as numerous Australian Prime Ministers and Western Australian premiers. His most demanding role was as CEO of the Kimberley Land Council (KLC). At its helm, Wayne successfully negotiated a 1.5-billion-dollar compensation package for Traditional Owners relating to Woodside Petroleum’s proposed gas plant at James Price Point, north of Broome. Wayne came under constant assault during this time, was called a ‘toxic coconut’ and accused of thinking white, lying white, and talking white. He approached me to write this book out of a desire to set the public record straight.

It’s a fantastic project and I’m genuinely thrilled to be at the desk each day. This book is going to be really special and really powerful! I’m hoping to finish a first draft by the end of the year.

 

 

Anything you wish to say that I may have missed?

 

Thanks Madelaine and best of luck in your career.