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

image001 

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.

 

     Isolation Publicity with Kerri Turner, author of The Daughter of Victory Lights

Due to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.

Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.

One of my participants is Kerri Tuner, author of The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers, and The Daughter of Victory Lights, both historical fiction novels published by HarperCollins Australia. Kerri was due to appear at various author events throughout Queensland about her latest novel, which she kindly sent me a copy of, as well as a tour of regional NSW called HerStory: Women Who Rebel, which sounds fascinating. This interview will touch on her books, and writing, reading, and the events she had to cancel in light of the current pandemic of COVID-19. Like many authors, Kerri is missing out on telling people about her book, and my series is a small way I can help with this.

cov-daughterofvictorylights-final_2_orig

Hi Kerri, and welcome to The Book Muse.

  1. Both your novels are historical fiction – what is it about historical fiction that interests you the most?

It’s the old saying about truth being stranger than fiction. I also think historical fiction creates a real sense of escape. You are going into worlds so entirely different to the one you know, yet realising that some themes are common to humanity all throughout time and place. I find that really interesting, and then there’s an added sense of wonder and awe because you know much of what you’re reading (or writing) is actually true.

  1. I’m yet to read the beautifully inscribed copy of Daughter of the Victory Lights that you sent me at the time of putting this interview together. Where did the inspiration for Evelyn’s story as a member of a searchlight regiment come from?

The Victory, the performing boat that Evelyn ends up working on, was where the idea for this book started. I knew Evelyn worked not as a performer on it, as my last novel had two performers as protagonists, and I didn’t want to repeat myself. I was interested in having her work with the lighting, but also knew that however she ended up on the boat, it would be as a result of her wartime experiences. So I got researching into ways to connect the two parts of her life, and by sheer luck came across the UK’s all-female searchlight regiments. All the pieces kind of fell into place then.

  1. Your first novel takes place in the years before and during the Russian Revolution during World War One – where did this story come from, and is it based in historical stories you heard anywhere?

It’s very much based on the real-life stories I grew up hearing and loving. I trained my whole life to be a ballerina, and knowing I didn’t have access to the high-level training I needed (I grew up in a small town), I decided to immerse myself in everything ballet in an effort to become an expert in everything else (as much as a kid can be an expert, that is!). So ballet dancers were my rock stars, their lives my celebrity gossip. Russian ballet dancers, and particularly in that era running from the late 19th century to the Russian Revolution, they dominated the ballet world and shaped ballet into what it is today. So that’s the era I was reading about the most as I grew up. As an adult, this led to the inspiration for The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers. The entire book started with a line written by Joan Acocella, a dance journalist, in the introduction to The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky. It’s there that I first learned about Russian ballet dancers of that era being involved in the sex trade.

 

  1. Both these books from what I can gather focus on women in history. Several of the authors I read have focused on these untold stories. For you – what do you feel the power of telling these stories is, and why did you choose these stories you’ve used in your novels in particular?

Women’s stories have not been given the same space and attention throughout history, and a lot of that has been deliberate. Strong, boundary-breaking women were often seen as a threat to the established way of life (as is seen with Mathilde Kschessinska in my first novel), and other times women were silenced so as not to give offence to men (as happened with the women who worked during World War 2, seen in my second novel). Telling these stories redresses this imbalance and gives due recognition to women’s huge contributions to history and the way they changed the world and society. The stories I tell are just the ones I happen to find and connect with. I know there are so many more out there waiting to be uncovered.

 

  1. What events have you been booked for that have been impacted by the current pandemic?

I had a tour of author talks in libraries throughout Brisbane which was cancelled, which would have also included bookstore visits for signings and a first-ever Facebook Live event for one of the libraries. I was also going to be one of the authors in the HerStory: Women Who Rebel tour of regional NSW. I still have a couple of events lined up for later in the year, some in Townsville and one in Tamworth, but we’ll have to wait and see how the situation stands before we decide if they go ahead.

  1. The HerStory: Women who Rebel sounds fascinating – can you tell us about the event, who it is run by and which authors were involved?

HerStory: Women Who Rebel is a campaign being run by HarperCollins/Harlequin which features books that focus on women who rebelled throughout history. The campaign includes The Daughter of Victory Lights, The Girl in the Painting by Tea Cooper, The Darkest Shore by Karen Brooks, The Women’s Pages by Victoria Purman, and Where Fortunes Lie by Mary-Anne O-Connor. All five authors were going to be on the same tour, appearing at events as a panel, discussing our books, history, and women’s roles throughout history.

  1. What were you looking forward to in HerStory: Women Who Rebel?

HarperCollins/Harlequin have only recently begun experimenting with this style of tour, where a small group of authors come together for a sort of mini-festival feel. I was excited to see how that would play out. As a relatively new author it can be difficult sometimes to set up solo events – you don’t know if the audience is there for it, and libraries have to place a lot of trust in you. Coming in as a group, I think we had a chance of attracting a more wide-reaching and diverse audience. And I think the conversations were going to be fascinating.

  1. What are you going to miss about HerStory: Women Who Rebel?

The opportunity to connect with readers. Writers spend so much time alone at our desks, working away on our stories, and it’s really nice to get out there and meet people face to face and talk about the things we all love – books! Also, the opportunity to further connect with the other historical writers.

  1. Do you think we need more events like this celebrating women in history, and Australian women authors who write about these women?

Absolutely! One thing every event I’ve done has had in common is the astonishment people express when they find out the kinds of things women have done historically. Events are a fantastic way of getting this fascinating information, information that we can all learn from, out there. They are also vital in supporting authors.

 

  1. Is there a favourite untold or lesser known woman in history you think everyone should know more about?

I would have to say Mathilde Kschessinska. I included her as a supporting character in The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers, but I could honestly write an entire series about her and never have to make anything up. The woman was an absolute force. Affairs with royalty, public simultaneous romantic relationships, wealth to rival the Romanov family, incredible power and influence. She had the courage to take Lenin himself to court right when he was amassing his full power; she danced for men who were waiting to kill her and so moved them that she was able to escape. She became a refugee. She taught some of the following generations’ most famous ballet dancers. She lived to nearly her one hundredth birthday. There is so much more I could say. If you’re interested in formidable, temperamental, courageous, rule-breaking women who forged their own paths, definitely look her up!

 

  1. Do you have a writing process, and what is it?

It’s changed a little with each book, as I’ve learned more as I’ve gone through the process of being published. But generally I spend several months researching, and in this time start to build an outline of the plot and characters. I then form a very thorough outline of the book, print it out and lay it on the floor, then see if any storylines have been dropped or any events could be moved to a different section to be more effective. Then I write the first draft, usually leaving small gaps here and there for the tiny historical details that I don’t know and want to fill in later. If it’s a big gap, or something that will influence the direction of the story, I stop and do the research then. After the first draft is done, I research and fill in all those tiny gaps that were left. I usually do another couple of drafts, where I will add further detail, fine-tune the writing, and keep building on the sense of time and place. Then it goes to my agent, who reads the entire manuscript and gives me feedback. I do one more rewrite, send it back to my agent again, and if she’s happy with it, it goes to the publisher. Once the publisher accepts the manuscript, it goes through three rounds of editing. In each round I’m usually still adding little touches here and there, because I can’t help myself. After the last round, I get one more opportunity to see the final, typeset pages, and then my work on it is done. Until the marketing and publicity starts, that is.

 

  1. When writing, do you have a preferred medium, and what is it?

I have a laptop that is solely used for my writing. I use the program Scrivener in the researching and first draft stage, then export the manuscript to Word for subsequent drafts.

  1. Favourite writing companion: cat, dog or both?

Dog, I have a miniature schnauzer called Nelson who always sits by my feet while I write.

  1. Favourite genre to read? Or are there many?

Historical fiction. Although I will read pretty much anything.

 

  1. Favourite author and top five books?

Too hard to pick just one author! But top five books would be Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown, Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park, and Persuasion by Jane Austen.

 

  1. What made you want to become a writer, and how did you find your publisher?

I always thought I would write one day. I’ve loved reading and writing my whole life, and with ballet being such a short career I had a notion that I would become a writer when I retired from ballet. But I didn’t have the right body type to become a ballerina. After a few years of trying different things, I turned to that early idea of writing, and have loved it ever since. Getting published was not easy though. It took several years, many tears and rejections, and countless moments of doubt. In 2017 I came across The Nash Agency, and submitted The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers there. Haylee Nash signed me, and within three months got me a two-book deal.

 

  1. Do you have any favourite booksellers, and why these ones in particular?

All of them! I love shopping at independent bookstores wherever possible. But there are some bookstores in particular who have really supported me as a writer. Dymocks Chatswood gave me my first ever in-store signing, Kinokuniya hosted the launch for my debut novel, Booktopia brought me in to sign books and record a podcast, Robinsons got me in to sign copies they distributed throughout their stores in Victoria, Dymocks Melbourne have supported me both online and in store with reviews and signings, Book Bazaar did the most exquisite window display for The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers, and Collins Booksellers Byron Bay gave me the warmest welcome when I just happened to pop in. Plus there’s all the stores that have come along to my events, including but not limited to Book Face Pacific Fair, Burns Bay Bookery, and Dymocks Baulkham Hills.

  1. Which member of the Babysitters Club are you?

Jessi. The love of ballet is a giveaway!

  1. How important do you think the arts are for us at this time, and all the time, and does more need to be done to support them?

The arts are vital. As we can see right now, we turn to them in times of difficulty and great upset. They soothe us when we’re frightened, they allow us to escape when we feel trapped, they connect us when we’re isolated. There is not a single person in the world who has not partaken in the arts in one way or another. Yet the arts are constantly one of the first sectors to be hit with funding cuts. This is despite the enormous contribution they bring to our lives and the economy, and the countless jobs they provide. I’m so grateful to all those who are supporting all the innovative ways the arts are trying to survive, particularly in this difficult period. I would just like to see them supported on a bigger scale, the same way other industries are.

  1. Any recommendations for social isolation reading, listening and viewing?

For reading, I’m defaulting to light-hearted books that make me laugh. Books like The Secret Recipe of Second Chances by J.D. Barrett, The Darling Buds of May by H.E. Bates, and Crazy Rich Asians by Keven Kwan. For viewing, Younger because it’s set in the world of publishing (albeit a highly fictionalised version), and Kim’s Convenience because it’s warm and hilarious. For listening, I like to escape into cast recordings for musical theatre shows, because you get a story along with the music. I recommend Six, Kinky Boots, or Dear Evan Hansen. Although, if you want something a little different, I did create a Spotify playlist for my book The Daughter of Victory Lights, which is full of big band, swing, and crooners.

Any further comments?

Just a great big thank to for having me here, and an additional thank you to all the readers who are going out of their way to support authors in such an unprecedented and difficult time.

Thanks Kerri!

 

Isolation Publicity with Middle Grade Mavens

 

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.
Some of my first interviews were with authors who have had events cancelled – and if there is more interest, I will be including as many as I can over the next few months, because books are what will get us through. Another artform and piece of media that will get us through is podcasts, and whilst I have written about the ones I listen to before, I’ve never interviewed a podcaster. So, the first podcast I will be interviewing is Middle Grade Mavens. Pamela has answered most of the questions where it doesn’t specify a name with two answers. It’s interesting to see how the book community is adapting and promoting the literary world, and in the midst of this pandemic, are promoting kids’ books for all ages across their social media platforms.

 

It was interesting to see that we enjoy some of the same books and podcasts as well.

middle grade mavens

Hi Julie and Pamela, and welcome to The Book Muse!

1. I started listening to your podcast late last year in 2019 and binged it to catch up. First of all, can you tell my readers what the podcast is about?
Middle Grade Mavens is an Australian book review podcast by myself, Julie Anne Grasso and Pamela Ueckerman. It’s aimed at anyone who loves middle grade books; that is, books aimed for ages 8-12. We provide detailed book reviews on new and not-so-new releases and author interviews. We sometimes create bonus episodes for aspiring authors such as a series we ran over the summer interviewing of children’s book editors.
2. When you began the podcast, as a team and as individuals, what did you hope to achieve with each episode?
Julie: Pamela and I both have an intense love for middle grade books. Sometimes we have intense views about how they should or should not be written, but regardless of our views, we knew we wanted to get the word out about great middle grade books we’ve encountered. To do that, we decided we would just start talking about middle grade books. From there it morphed into interviewing authors, illustrators, editors, publicists, booksellers, and anyone who wants to join us on the journey of promoting and discovering wonderful middle grade books. The world is our oyster really.

3. The connection you have as podcasters is great to listen to – did that develop as you planned out the podcast, through a working relationship, or another relationship, and how long have you been friends for?
Julie: It’s funny, Pamela and I met at Kidlitvic (industry conference) a few years ago and hit it off immediately. We talked about books, our views on the industry and how we hope to be a part of it. When I bounced the idea off Pamela of a podcast about middle-grade books, she jumped at the chance. We didn’t really have any idea how to go about it, so we just wrote up some questions we’d like to ask each other about the books we were reading, and went from there. We use a simple platform called Anchor, which is a mobile phone app. We record on Skype and upload our segments and interviews to the Anchor app, which then distributes our show to 10 platforms, like Apple Podcasts. Pamela is also whizz at websites, so she built one for us. The rest is history!

Pamela: It’s always great to hear that people enjoy our connection. We had already been part of a writing mastermind group for a year or so when Julie suggested a podcast, we knew each other fairly well but it has grown from there with working so closely. We spent a few months planning and preparing before we started recording so I think that also helped. We’re quite different in many ways but similar in our approach to our careers. We take things seriously, but not too seriously, and while we’d love to be perfectionists, we know with children and the limited time we have that perfection is unattainable so we don’t let that stop us.

4. What was the book that made you fall in love with reading, and was it a middle grade book?
Pamela: I’ve always read, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love books. One of my fond childhood memories is on my 7th birthday, my dad waking me up to give me a beautiful book of nursery rhymes and fairy tales from our next-door neighbour. I still have that book, although it’s not very PC any more. I also have an annual that was my mother’s when she was a girl. One of my favourite books as a child was Roald Dahl’s The Twits and another was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I loved escaping to other worlds, or other versions of our world. I still do!

Julie: I am going to surprise you, but I was not a reader at all as a child. I didn’t get the reading bug until I was well into my late teens when I read, Anne McCaffrey’s The Rowan Series. Those books made me a reader and I still read them today and love them. Plus, I was always a sci-fi nerd, watching Dr Who as a child, so a sci-fi book series is what it took to get me reading.

5. I’ve been studying, reading and following literary circles and trends for a while – and the last few years have been the first time I have heard the term middle grade, at least in Australia. How do you feel the trend in using this term has grown for readers aged around eight to twelve?

Pamela: Middle-grade was a new term for me when I started writing for kids. Until I had my own children, I hadn’t read children’s books in many years and while they were little, I was mostly immersed in picture books. As a kid, I would jump between reading younger books like Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree, maybe a Babysitter’s Club, classics like Little Women and then adult books like Mills and Boon and a French detective series I discovered at the library. There were books in between, of course, but not like they are today. I love that the focus has grown in this area because it’s such an important developmental growth period for children, especially as they no longer have the freedom to explore the world as they once did. But also, a great middle-grade book can be enjoyed by teenagers and adults as well, without darker themes, violence or heavy language that they might want to avoid. It’s hard for me to tell if the term has trended recently because I’m so immersed in it, but I like to think we are champions for middle-grade books and helping that readership to stand on its own.

6. When we were younger and in the nineties, the terms middle grade and young adult didn’t seem to be around or as visible – the bookshops and libraries were broadly divided into kids, adult and sometimes teen sections – do you think the addition of young adult, and middle grade has helped to address how we present books to readers of all ages?

Pamela: Yes, I think the terms really help the gatekeepers and the readers home in on books that are appropriate for their age level and also help booksellers and publishers to target their marketing. Which isn’t only great for sales but it’s also great for attracting kids to read. If they pick up a book that looks interesting but is too advanced or to dark, they might be put off. Likewise, they might be put off if a book seems too easy or babyish. Having these loose categories really helps everyone involved to know what to expect.

Many years ago, children’s books were seen purely as educational opportunities, very moralistic, so I think a part of carving out this niche is that the books are written with an understanding of the age group, writing from a child’s point-of-view rather than the perspective of an adult trying to teach a child. Story is much more important than moral now, which gives authors more scope and allows them to have more fun.

7. Maven Julie is a librarian (if I have this wrong, I apologise, and please correct when you send this back). In this sphere, have you noticed a change in the way middle grade books are presented and recommended in your library? Has this helped kids and parents find the right books?

Julie: So, I better clarify I am a customer service librarian, not a catalogue Librarian. My focus is to help readers discover, find, and access books, as well as essential services that the library offers. I have definitely seen some great changes in the kind of books coming into the collection, as well as how they are presented on the shelf. Through the podcast, and having access to re-release books, I am also able to make some great recommendation of new release books that have only just hit the shelves, as well as some golden oldies.

8. Maven Pamela – how do you incorporate the many, many middle grade books into your home-schooling?

Pamela: Many, many, yes indeed! We start every home-school day with me reading aloud from a novel to both my boys, who are only two years apart so close enough that I don’t feel the need to do separate books. I try to choose more challenging, literary books than what they choose for themselves – a mixture of classics and newer books. How I select those is fairly random, depending on what we already have and what I think they’re ready for. I have collected quite a few books from second-hand book sales and little free libraries over time so we always have options. Other times I use the library. After the novel read-aloud, I usually read from a non-fiction book or maybe a narrative non-fiction picture book and do this for both world and Australian history and sometimes to tie in with our science nature study. We also have bedtime reading, which is the boys’ choice – they usually each have a novel going as a bedtime read-aloud. And then throughout the day they dip in and out of other books for their own reading – these are usually more light-hearted books, manga, or Pokémon or Minecraft guides.

9. Do you have a current favourite middle grade book or series, and why?

Pamela: My current favourite is Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor series, it has so much depth to the world, the characters, the setting. You can really lose yourself in Nevermoor, which is what you want from a series.

Julie: My current favourite is Malamander by Thomas Taylor and I am reading Gargantis, soon to be released, which is the second book in the series. It is everything I’ve ever wanted in a book. A middle grade magical realism set in eerie-by the sea, a shanty town with a crumbling hotel and a protagonist with a fruit as a surname. My criteria are eclectic I realise, but I’m owning it 100%!
10. When not reading middle grade books, what is your go to genre?
Pamela: Historical fiction is my go-to but I like good writing in any genre, including non-fiction, which I read quite a bit of.
Julie: I used to love forensic crime, but that was before I adopted sleep deprivation as my eternal friend. Now I like to read all things Mystery and or Who Dunnit!

11. Best reading companion: dogs, cats, or both?
Pamela: I’m a dog person but we don’t have any pets right now. At the moment, I’m lucky to get any peace at all so I’m happy when I do!
Julie: Achoo! Neither, allergies. Can I go with the actual book being the companion?
12. Which Hogwarts house do you think you’d be in, if you’ve read the books?
Pamela: Hmmm, I want to say Gryffindor but probably Ravenclaw.
Julie: Gryffindor, although, if I did one of those tests it would probably be Hufflepuff.
13. Are there any 2020 middle grade releases that you and your munchkins are looking forward too?
Pamela: Hollowpox, the next Nevermoor book, and Remy Lai’s new release, Fly on the Wall, both of which have been postponed, which is disappointing! Mr Nine is looking forward to Allison Tait’s new series, The Fire Star in September; and Mr Seven has a few sequels he’s looking forward including Squidge Dibley Destroys Everything (by Mick Elliot), Real Pigeons Peck Punches (Andrew McDonald and Ben Wood) and Aleesah Darlison’s League of Llamas books.
Julie: Gargantis, by Thomas Taylor, The Mummies Smugglers of Crumblin Castle by Pamela Rushby, Illustrated by Nelle May Pierce.
14. When not borrowing from the library, do you have a favourite bookseller you frequent, and why?
Pamela: I try to spread the love around but in particular I like to support my local indie bookstore, Benn’s Books (Centre Rd, Bentleigh). They have a beautifully curated children’s book section.

Julie: The Younger Sun in Yarraville Vic They have an incredible selection and I have to limit my attendance so not to break the bank.

15. Book podcasts are gaining traction – and what I love about them is I can listen to them whilst doing something else, which is how I binged on your podcast and One More Page. What is it about podcasts that discuss books in particular that you think is something people are seeking out?

Pamela: That’s an interesting question. I guess for each person it depends on what they’re trying to get out of it. Some of our listeners are writers and looking to learn more about the industry and pick up writing tips. Others are teachers or librarians looking for book recommendations. The industry is quite strong (or at least was before COVID-19) and there are so many books, it’s nice to be able to cut right through the noise. I think it’s also a form of connection – when you get to know a podcast and if you enjoy the show’s format or the presenter’s voices, you feel a connection to them and want to hear what they have to say. And if the hosts are reading and discussing the same books as you are, there’s a connection there, a shared experience. As we are finding out the hard way with the pandemic, connection is a hugely important part of life. If you can get that connection on your terms – when, where and how is convenient for you – even better.

16. What book or podcast recommendations can you give readers?
Pamela: As a writer, I love So You Want to Be a Writer, particularly the interviews, they’re fascinating. For kids, my boys love Wow in the World, which is an hilarious science-themed podcast. As for books on writing, I’m currently reading Wired for Story by Lisa Cron, I highly recommend it.

Julie: Same as Pamela, above, as well as our friends at One More Page. I also love The First Time podcast, and another great one for more readers of adult mystery and crime fiction, SheDunnitShow Last but not least, another great one for adult and kids book lovers, Words and Nerds…

World Book Day 2020

Happy WORLD BOOK DAY

Today, the 23rd of April, we celebrate World Book Day, and William Shakespeare’s birthday. It is the UNESCO World Book and Copyright Day, and the National Library of Australia notes that it also marks the deaths of William Shakespeare (I know, he died the same day he was born, about fifty-two years later), and Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote. Shakespeare was born in Stratford-Upon-Avon, and I’ve done the tour of three of the historic houses linked to the playwright.

World Book Day celebrates a love of reading, and this year, they are encouraging people to share the love of reading from home – while we’re all in isolation and unable to head out. I’m doing a lot of reading at the moment – mostly for review and working on a series called Isolation Publicity series which is highlighting as many Australian authors as possible, especially those impacted by the cancellation of events, festivals and launches of their upcoming releases – some are debut authors, and some have had many works published. Yet they all need love at the moment and blogging about books and sharing books is a small way we can #StayAtHome during #WorldBookDay and share the love of reading.

So on World Book Day, grab a good book if you can and read!

Today, I have several books on the go:

The Ratline: Love, Lies and Justice on the Trail of a Nazi Fugitive (out 28th of April 2020)

Friday Barnes: No Rules by R.A. Spratt

The Monstrous Devices by Damien Love (Out 19th May 2020)

The Monstrous Heart by Claire McKenna

All four will be reviewed on my blog in the coming days or weeks, and I have many more to get through – the scheduling tool is super helpful here. You can follow progress of readers in this time via the hashtag #AustraliaReadsAtHome as well.

In relation to World Book Day, in September, The Australian Reading Hour with Australia Reads  is coming up in September, but instead of one hour, there are seventeen days of fun leading up to the main event on the 17th of September, where the aim is to have one million people reading the same book at the same time. Each year there is a different book for National Simultaneous Story Time. Your own individual hour can take place whenever and wherever you wish.

I linked these two events in today’s post because they both highlight the importance of books, reading and literacy, and so you can prepare for the September event! More information will come about this event later, about what will be happening during the first two weeks of September.

Inheritance of Secrets by Sonya Bates (Inaugural Banjo Prize Shortlisted author)

Inheritance of SecretsTitle: Inheritance of Secrets

Author: Sonya Bates

Genre: Historical Fiction, Contemporary Mystery

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia

Published: 20th April 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 420

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: No matter how far you run, the past will always find you…

Juliet’s elderly grandparents are killed in their Adelaide home. Who would commit such a heinous crime – and why? The only clue is her grandfather Karl’s missing signet ring.

When Juliet’s estranged sister, Lily, returns in fear for her life, Juliet suspects something far more sinister than a simple break in gone wrong. Before Juliet can get anymore answers, Lily vanishes once more.

Juliet only knew Karl Weiss as a loving grandfather, a German soldier who emigrated to Australia to build a new life. What was he hiding that could have led to his murder?  While attempting to find out. Juliet uncovers some disturbing secrets from WWII that will put both her and her sister’s lives in danger…

Gripping. Tense. Mysterious. Inheritance of Secrets links the crimes of the present to the secrets of the past and asks how far would you go to keep a promise?

~*~

Moving between the present, and a postwar period of transition, Inheritance of Secrets opens like many crime novels – with the crime, or the aftermath of the crime and the beginning of the investigation. Juliet arrives to identify the bodies of her grandparents, Karl and Grete at the morgue. From here, the detectives tell her what has happened, and Juliet begins to wonder what could have happened.

AWW2020As she investigates, her relationships fracture or come together – she finds herself drifting away from her partner, Jason, and closer to her childhood friend, Ellis, and her sister Lily as she uncovers secrets that Lily has kept from her for years. Yet it there is more to the case than previously thought – and Juliet and Lily soon find themselves pursued by Nazi Hunters, determined to find something they claim Karl stole more at the end of the war. But what is it, and what secrets are hidden within?

As the novel weaves back and forth between Karl’s post-war journey to Australia, and contemporary times, where Lily and Juliet are on the run from those who are demanding something from their grandfather, the mystery of what Karl was hiding all these years and the secrets he carried over from Germany. These elements make up the story, filled with intrigue, and questions about how well you know someone, morals, ethics and how far you’ll go to protect secrets even if they could hurt someone or make you see someone you love in a different light. And once you’ve discovered something about that person you could never have imagined – how far will you go – how far will Juliet go – to make sure that secret stays hidden?

This novel is about the grey areas of morals and ethics – where the choices one makes might not be what we want or might be forced on us. Or might be something that needs to be done yet is morally and ethically wrong. It shows the contrast between what we know of history and what may have been hidden, or the secrets that individuals kept even from family – to protect them. This novel combined historical fiction, mystery and thriller in a new way, and showed a different side to the story of World War Two, and the post war period than we are used to seeing – filled with moral ambiguity that left me wondering whether the right thing had been done – and whether the threat was truly gone as well.

 

Isolation Publicity with Jenna Guillaume – author and freelance journalist.

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.

what I like about me

Jenna’s debut, What I Like About Me, which I hope to be reading and reviewing soon, came out in Australia in 2019. This year, it was meant to be released in America, and Jenna was due to head over to America for a book tour when the corona virus hit, and closures meant she wasn’t able to do so. In lieu of this, like many authors, she’s trying to do online tours and promotion, and her stop on my blog is part of this, and is another interview in my Isolation Publicity series.

Hi Jenna, and welcome to The Book Muse

  1. Your book, What I Like About Me. Has been out in Australia for a year and is just being released in America. Is this an exciting move for an Australian author?

It’s so exciting! I honestly didn’t really expect What I Like About Me to be published in America as I know it’s a hard market to break into, and it’s a very Australian book. It was a very lovely surprise. We consume a lot of American culture here so it’s nice to have a story of my own going back the other way.

 

  1. Did you have to edit your book for an American audience, or did you leave it as it is?

I did have to make some edits, although perhaps not as many as you’d think. It was mainly language – caravan became RV, servo became gas station and so on. I also had to take out a reference to Minties, because apparently they’re a dog treat in America, not a human treat.

  1. Do you feel it is important for Australian books to maintain their Australian identity when entering the international market?

I’m really passionate about seeing Australian books tell Australian stories, and retain as much of that identity as possible in international markets. As I already mentioned, we consume so much American culture here. It’s vital we hang on to our own culture, and having it embraced internationally is always going to help with that.

  1. Where did the idea for What I Like About Me come from, and what is it about Maisie that you think makes her more relatable than some of the middle grade or young adult protagonists in more popular books?

What I Like About Me initially started out as a romance, so I started with the dynamic of the core four characters who would be involved in the romance plot. As I developed the character of Maisie, the story morphed into being more focused on her own internal journey with loving herself – although of course the romance is still there.

I wouldn’t say Maisie is more relatable than other protagonists, but I do hope readers can connect with her. I poured a lot of my own personal experiences and emotions as both a teenager and an adult into her – especially regarding my relationship with my body. She’s comes from a place of authenticity.

 

  1. You started out as a writer with places like Buzzfeed, Junkee, Sydney Morning Herald and ABC News. Do you still write for these places, and where did you get your start?

I started my career at Girlfriend magazine, working there for five years, before I worked at BuzzFeed for another five years. I now freelance in addition to writing books, so the publications you mentioned are those I currently write for (amongst others). After a decade split across just two workplaces, it’s nice to branch out and write for a lot of different titles!

  1. You’re represented by my first interviewee in this series, Danielle Binks. How did you meet, and do you enjoy working with her?

Danielle and I ‘met’ online, on Twitter, purely because we have similar interests and enjoy chatting about things like pop culture and romance books and, of course, YA. We met in person for the first time at the Sydney Writers’ Festival a few years back, and she became my agent a few months later. She’s a dream to work with. We’re totally on the same page about a lot of things, and it’s wonderful to have someone as knowledgeable and passionate as Danielle in my corner.

  1. Is there another book on the way that you can tell my readers anything about?

I’m currently editing my second book, which is out with Pan Macmillan in August. It’s Weird Science meets Jenny Han – two girls accidentally create the perfect guy, and he complicates their lives in ways they would never have anticipated. It’s a very fun rom-com that I’m excited to share with people.

 

  1. The important stuff: Cats, dogs or both?

DOGS! Although I am trying to grow out of my previous anti-cat prejudices.

  1. Favourite kind of writing snack?

Chocolate. Chocolate. Chocolate.

 

  1. Which Hogwarts house would you belong in if you were attending Hogwarts?

I’m a Ravenclaw through and through!

  1. What is it about rom-coms that you love, and what was the rom-com that began your love of the genre?

Rom-coms are just so comforting. You know they’re going to have a happy ending. They’re the best form of escapism, and necessary in times like this. I’ve loved rom-coms for as long as I remember – I can’t even tell you what my first one would have been. I know I watched Clueless for the first time when I was about nine, but I’m sure there were some earlier than that. I guess that’s the first one I actively chose to get from the video store though.

  1. You might hate me for this question, but top five rom-com movies – what are they?

Oh my god this is so tough! Okay, don’t hold me to this because it may change in future, but right now:

  1. When Harry Met Sally
  2. 10 Things I Hate About You
  3. Clueless
  4. Love Actually
  5. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before
  1. When writing, do you prefer typing on a computer, or using a pen and paper? Is one or the other more effective for you?

Computer, 100%. My handwriting is terrible and my arm hurts after writing like two sentences. I’m too used to computers now.

  1. Do you have a favourite bookseller, and why are they your favourite?

Ooooh I love so many bookstores, but I have a soft spot for Better Read Than Dead in Newtown because I go to book club there and they do other great events, plus it’s just such a homey and friendly place. Also Kinokuniya in the Sydney CBD, which is where I had my first book launch! They have an incredible range and a great YA section in particular.

  1. Like Danielle, your job is in the arts. How important do you think the arts are, in times of crisis and at other times as well?

The arts are vital. I know it can feel ‘frivolous’ or not important, but while they may not contribute to our physical health or immediate survival, I think they’re absolutely necessary for our mental health. They keep us sane and bring us joy even in the darkest times.

  1. Do you prefer the blue cover, or the yellow cover?

I cannot possibly pick a favourite. I like that both variations are out there!

 

  1. In this time of crisis, what art forms – movies, podcasts, television, books etc – do you find yourself turning to when you need a break from everything that is going on?

I definitely go back to my go-to comforts – rom-coms, and movies and shows I loved growing up. There’s something about nostalgia that provides a safe space. I am also super into kdramas, because they tend to have romance-focused plots, and having to read subtitles forces me to get offline when I am otherwise addicted to my feeds.

 

  1. What books are you looking forward to reading this year?

I’m so excited for Danielle’s debut The Year the Maps Changed, as well as Kay Kerr’s Please Don’t Hug Me and Anna Whateley’s Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal.

 

  1. Which events were you the most excited about this year that have been cancelled or postponed?

Oh man. I was going to be in America at the end of April to do some promo events for What I Like About Me and also see my faves BTS perform, and now that trip has been cancelled which I’m super bummed about. And although I was going to be away when it was on, I’m still devastated to see the Sydney Writers’ Festival be cancelled. There are so many events that had a lot of work put into them that have now been called off. It’s just so heartbreaking. I know when we can all finally gather and go to these events again, it’s going to be all the more meaningful.

Any further comments?

It’s a really tough time right now. Be gentle with yourself and don’t feel guilty for reaching for joy. Also, I know there’s a lot of financial pressure on many people, so even if you can’t support your fave artists and small businesses with money, a recommendation, review or tweet of appreciation and support can be really meaningful! And don’t forget the joys of libraries, which all have online services you can access without leaving the house.