May 2020 Round Up

In May, we seemed to settle into a lockdown routine, so I got a bit more reading done. This month, I read 20 books – the vast majority of those – seventeen – were by Australian women writers – some for review, some my own reads and one or two that I read alongside Isolation Publicity interviews. Below is a breakdown of my current numbers, and a table with each read and the challenge they worked for. Some categories are easier to fill, as always, and some have multiple entries. I’ve got plenty to read – the books keep coming so I’m trying to keep on top of everything as best I can.

The Modern Mrs Darcy 11/12
AWW2020 -53/25
Book Bingo – 11/12
The Nerd Daily Challenge 45/52
Dymocks Reading Challenge 22/25
Books and Bites Bingo 15/25
STFU Reading Challenge: 10/12
General Goal –89/165

May – 20

Book Author Challenge
The Monstrous Devices Damien Love Reading Challenge, STFU Reading Challenge, AWW2020
An Alice Girl Tanya Heaslip Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Daisy Runs Wild Caz Goodwin and Ashley King Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal Anna Whateley Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Her Perilous Mansion Sean Williams Reading Challenge
What Zola did on Monday

 

Melina Marchetta and illustrated by Deb Hudson Reading Challenge, AWW2020, The Nerd Daily Challenge
Henrie’s Hero Hunt (House of Heroes)

 

Petra Hunt Reading Challenge, AWW2020,
The Power of Positive Pranking Nat Amoore Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Edie’s Experiments: How to Make Friends Charlotte Barkla Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Alice-Miranda at School Jacqueline Harvey Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily, AWW2020
Alice-Miranda in the Outback Jacqueline Harvey Reading Challenge, AWW2020
The Giant and the Sea Trent Jamieson, Rovina Cai Reading Challenge, Book Bingo, STFU Reading Challenge
Shoestring: The Boy Who Walks on Air by

 

Julie Hunt and Dale Newman Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Orla and the Serpent’s Curse C.J. Halsam Reading Challenge
Elephant Me Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily Challenge
A Treacherous Country K.M. Kruimink Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Eloise and the Bucket of Stars Janine Brian Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Snow White and Rose Red: And Other Tales of Kind Young Women  Kate Forsyth and Lorena Carrington Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge, AWW2020, Books and Bites Book Bingo
Tashi: 25th Anniversary Edition

 

Anna Fienberg, Barbara Fienberg and Kim Gamble Reading Challenge, AWW2020
On A Barbarous Coast Craig Cormick and Harold Ludwick Reading Challenge, STFU Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge

 

In June I am hoping to read more and get further on top of all my reviews – look for more great books by Australians and especially kids and young adult books to come in the next few weeks.

Peta Lyre

The Power of Positive Pranking by Nat Amoore

positive prankingTitle: The Power of Positive Pranking

Author: Nat Amoore

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 2nd June 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Green Peas is our name and pranking’s our game!

A symphony of alarm clocks at assembly? Yep, that was us. A stampede of fluffy guinea pigs? That’s next on our agenda.

But for me, Cookie and Zeke, it’s about more than just fun. We’re determined to make a difference. And when the adults won’t listen, us kids will find a way to be heard – as long as we can stay out of detention!
No activist is too small, no prank too big… and things are about to get personal.

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~*~

Casey, Cookie and Zeke are Watterson Primary School’s best prankers. And so far, they haven’t been caught. Yet they only use their pranks for good – to help people and alert everyone to important issues that the adults in their lives don’t seem to be worried about. It’s all about making sure everyone knows what’s really going on in the world and sometimes, a good prank is what works.

When Casey and her friends find out what Mayor Lupholl has planned for their town at a school assembly, they are catapulted into action to save the park, a beloved tree and the Lego house built in Nat’s previous book, Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire. Yep, Nat has cleverly tied the events and characters, and location of her first book into this one, and both are filled with the same humour and wonderful diversity. Whether it is disability, race, interests, ethics or family make up – Nat has managed to show a diverse world, and one that everyone can relate to in some way. In each book she has had a character or two with an invisible disability – and this is exciting for people who never see themselves represented. In acknowledging invisible disabilities and that disabled people are not to be pitied, Nat has opened the door for more of this representation to follow.

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Similarly, with her relationships and the characters races – they just are who they are and this is beautiful to see in a novel for kids so they can see just how diverse the world is.

And we finally learn what positive pranking is and how it works – it mustn’t hurt anyone, but it must send a message – and when Casey needs to pull off the biggest positive prank ever, she has to find a way to get the entire school and her family onside so they can make sure that they don’t lose their beloved town to corrupt forces.

Nat takes issues that might seem complex – politics, the environment, activism – and makes them easy to understand, accessible and of course, fun and humorous. These are issues that affect everyone, as does good representation and it is something that we should all be caring about – which is the message of Nat’s book – to take action where you can and diversity is a good thing! I loved Tess and Toby coming back in – it really tied the two books together nicely, and this is a great way to do so. It’s not really a series based around a concept, plot or characters, as each book can be read on its own, or together. But it could work as a potential series set in the same town and primary school, where you can read any or all of the books – it just makes it more fun to read them together to appreciate all the little nods and hints.

I loved this book, and its predecessor. It took a serious topic, made it fun as well as serious at the same time, and was a nice, engaging read – which also made it a quick read for me. Sometimes there are engaging books like this that can be gobbled up and enjoyed, and then revisited. This is one of those books, and it is one that I think lots of kids will enjoy, and hopefully, relate to and learn something from.

You can read my accompanying interview with Nat here – we agreed to publish the interview and review side by side for publication day.

Isolation Publicity with Nat Amoore – author and co-host of the most wonderful One More Page.

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

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.

Nat is a kid’s author. She has written Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire, and her latest book, out today, is The Power of Positive Pranking. Nat also runs one of my favourite podcasts, One More Page with Liz Ledden and Kate Simpson, which focuses on Aussie kids books and is a fantastic place to go when looking for your next read or your kid’s next read. Like many authors, Nat had all kinds of awesome events planned around the release of her new book, and visits to bookstores – including my favourite. It would have been really cool to meet Nat – we’ll save that for when we can both get to the best bookstore ever! This is one of my most enthusiastic and fun interviews – they all have been but something about Nat’s books made this loads of fun and hopefully it is filled with laughter for my readers. This was one I wanted to share early, but we both agreed to tee it up with the book release! So enjoy!

Hi Nat and welcome to The Book Muse!

  1. I recently read and reviewed Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire – to begin, where did that idea come from, and how did Tess form in your mind?

The idea originally came from a tiny little newspaper article about a 10-year-old girl in the US who got busted with twenty grand in her school locker. There was no explanation as to how it got there and I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. As far as Tess goes, I think anyone who knows me will tell you that there is quite a bit of me in Tess. I was always scheming and scamming when I was a kid and always had (and still do have) a new project on the boil every day.

  1. Your second book, The Power of Positive Pranking has just come out – what exactly is positive pranking?

 

Positive Pranking brings together a few ideas. Firstly, the grey area between right and wrong. I love playing with this as a concept. The idea of doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. So using the power of being an awesome prankster for positive reasons/effects. Also, it plays with the idea that there is a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way to bring about change. When kids were missing school to participate in climate change rallies, there were a lot of adults saying ‘they should be in school’ or ‘this is not the way to bring about change’ but I think it’s very arrogant to suggest that there is a ‘right’ way to change the world. Effecting change is difficult and it’s hard to know how it should be done. But we have to try.

  1. Have you ever played any positive pranks on anyone, and what were they?

Oh dear, plenty! Some of the pranks in this book are based on VERY personal experiences but to protect the innocent (and more importantly, the guilty) I cannot admit which ones.

  1. Prior to these novels, have you had anything else published?

No. Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire was my first publication. Well, that’s not quite true, I had a poem published in a poetry anthology when I was in high school, but other than that…no. The Power of Positive Pranking will be book number two and I have signed two more contracts with Penguin Random House for upcoming books.

  1. Are there any noteworthy awards under your belt?

I had a pretty amazing year at the CYA conference in 2018 where I placed 1st & 2nd in the Picture Book category and 2nd in the Chapter Book for Younger Readers. That same year I was also a recipient of the Maurice Saxby Creative Development Program. It’s also the year I signed my first book contract. 2018 was a big year for me! I also just found out the Secrets Of A Schoolyard Millionaire was Australia’s #1 best-selling debut Aussie Children’s Fiction in 2019 and it’s been sold into three other territories. So that’s pretty awesome!

  1. I absolutely love your podcast with Kate and Liz, One More Page. Where did the idea for the podcast come from, and how do you go about choosing your books for each episode?

Kate, Liz and I wanted to share our love of kids’ books and provide a platform for Australian kidlit authors to really shine. It was before any of us were published but we were deeply involved in the kidlit community and just wanted a way to share the love. We were fans of podcasts and so thought it would be a great medium. At that stage, no one else was really doing a podcast that was specifically about Australian kids’ books (that we knew of) and so we thought it would work well. We get sent many, many, MANY books and review requests from publishers and authors and we choose them like we might in a book shop…whatever grabs us. We read heaps of books and then review the ones we really love.

  1. If you had a million dollars like Tess and Toby, what would you do with it?

I honestly think I would probably do ‘a Tess’. Splurge in the beginning – throw parties, hire jumping castles, eat way too many lollies – and then settle down and work out what good I could do with the money.

  1. Serious question now: Most authors have had launches, and various literary events or conferences cancelled due to the pandemic – what have you had to cancel or reschedule, and which were you most looking forward to?

Aw it hurts a bit to answer this. I had a really incredible couple of months lined up, and it’s all been cancelled unfortunately. I had an awesome book launch planned. I’d hired a whole hall and was going to deck it out in blue and yellow with custom printed fart cushions for all the kids and a ‘safe snack table’ and a ‘prank snack table’ for those who were game. I was then meant to head off on a national book tour including Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide, including TV appearances, school visits, book signings and a whole lot of crazy Nat-shenanigans. But a really big one that hurt, was I had been invited to host the Primary School Days Program at the Sydney Writer’s Festival. If you’ve never been to one before it’s like a massive book rock concert in front of HUNDREDS of kids. They completely FILL Town Hall and other venues. It was already sold out. I was SO looking forward to getting crazy with all those kids, spreading the absolute joy of reading and meeting kidlit superstars like Raina Telgemeier (I would have been a TOTAL fan girl). I was also lined up to host one of the Family Program days. Amelia Lush had put together SUCH an amazing program for the 2020 festival and I am so gutted it’s been cancelled. We just have to rally together when this is all over and whole-heartedly support festivals like this when they make a come-back because the writing world would be a MUCH sadder place without them.

  1. I remember you told me you had an event booked at my local indie, BookFace Erina – is this the kind of event you think will be rescheduled, and have you ever been to BookFace?

I haven’t YET. But I am VERY much looking forward to a visit and I’m sure it will happen as soon as the world returns to normal-ish. I think I was a Central-Coastian in a past life. I just love it up there. My mentor and close friend Cathie Tasker lives up there and so I go up to visit quite often. Even if the event isn’t rescheduled, next time I’m allowed to visit Cathie, I’m DEFINITELY dropping in to BookFace…so keep your eye out!

  1. What made you decide to do your book-inspired dance videos during isolation?

 

Honestly? I looked at all the amazing things authors were doing and I really wanted to contribute but I was also going a bit bananas in isolation. Being stuck inside is pretty hard on me and with school visits cancelled, I don’t have the same avenues to burn my energy…and there’s a LOT of it! I used to be a dance fitness instructor and so I just decided to combine my two loves – books and dance – and create Book’N’Boogie! It’s as much for me as anyone who’s watching! I really need to shake it out every couple of days. But I’ve been getting sent heaps of videos of kids dancing along with me and it just makes my heart burst!

  1. Your Gif game on Twitter is really cool – what is it about this medium that you enjoy, and do you enjoy Gif wars?

The discovery of GIFs changed my life. I’m such a visual and expression-using person (is that even a word?) and I love how GIFs capture an entire feeling in just a moment. And when you get JUST the right one, it’s like nailing a joke – it just feels so perfect! I taught my dad how to GIF and now we barely use words when we text – just GIF after GIF after GIF. I also wrote a complete story with illustrator James Foley on Twitter DM once using only GIFs, and I still go back and look at it when I need a giggle.

  1. If you could meet any kid’s author, who would it be, and why?

Paul Jennings. Although technically I did meet him when I was about 10 AND I got to interview him in 2017 for the podcast (although it was online not face to face). But I still think it would be him again. Or maybe Jon Klassen. I feel like I would enjoy his sense of humour.

  1. What kids’ books should everyone read, regardless of their age?

Oh there are SO many. Sentimentally, I would say Uncanny by Paul Jennings and Skymaze by Gillian Rubenstein because I think both those books played a huge role in my desire to become a writer. But I believe heavily in supporting current authors, so I think you MUST read A Cardboard Palace by Allayne Webster and Vincent and the Grandest Hotel On Earth by Lisa Nicol. They are both brilliant and shouldn’t be missed.

  1. Which Hogwarts house do you think you belong in, and who would your Hogwarts crew have been?

Okay, so I wasn’t actually sure of the answer for this one so I just did an online quiz and it told me Gryffindor. That sounds about right to me. I reckon my crew would include Ron, Hagrid, Luna, Dobby (personal fav!), Sirius and probably Nymphadora Tonks. And then any of those other cool magic creatures that wanna hang with us – a hippogriff pet would totally rock!

  1. If you weren’t a kid’s author, what would your dream job be and why?

I would love to be either a Kid’s TV Show host, preferably a show where there was a lot of slime involved OR a homicide investigator. I know they don’t seem to go hand in hand but two of my biggest loves are slime and true crime – AND THEY RHYME!

  1. What are your go-to movies or television shows when not reading and writing?

I ALWAYS go back to the 80s. The Goonies, The Princess Bride, The Never Ending Story, The Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, The Blues Brothers, Stand By Me, Willow, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Beetlejuice…I can be lost for hours in the 80s. I’ll watch these movies over and over and NEVER get sick of them.

 

  1. Favourite music, band or song, and why?

Favourite bands are The Lucksmiths (not together anymore but still a fav) because of their awesome lyrics, super dance-y tunes and because they were the soundtrack to my high school years and some of the best times of my life were to tune of The Lucksmiths. Also Cat Empire because I cannot not dance when I hear them. All-time favourite song is hard but might be ‘What I Like About You’ by The Romantics because, well just listen to it and tell me it’s not THE BEST!

  1. Cats or dogs?

Dogs. But actually monkeys, if that was an option.

  1. Favourite writing snack, and what happens when you run out of it?

Coffee. I don’t really snack while I write but I devour coffee! I don’t run out of it. Ever! It’s not an option. I wouldn’t operate. I’m getting anxious just thinking about it. I better have a coffee.

  1. What’s next in terms of books?

Well, obviously trying to get The Power Of Positive Pranking out into the world. It’s going to take some creative approaches because I usually love the face to face contact with kids and booksellers to get my books out there in the world. In Corona-time, I’m gonna to have to get creative. I’ll miss meeting people, but hopefully it won’t be too long till I’m back out there in schools and shops and libraries, causing trouble. Then I have two more books currently set for 2021. One which is already written and is a stand-alone, not related to my previous books. And one which is not written (eeeekkkk!) and is planned to be the third in the ‘Watterson World’ – so connected to my first two books. Then I will have fulfilled all current contracts and I can really have a good think about what it is next. The world is my sea slug! That’s the saying right?

Any further comments?

You rock! And thanks so much for supporting kids’ authors in these tough times. We sooooooooo appreciate you!

 

Thanks Nat!

 

Alice-Miranda in the Outback by Jacqueline Harvey

Alice Miranda OutbackTitle: Alice-Miranda in the Outback

Author: Jacqueline Harvey

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 2nd June 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: A dusty desert adventure beckons!

Alice-Miranda and her friends are off to the Australian Outback! They’re going to help an old family friend who’s found himself short staffed during cattle mustering season. The landscape is like nothing else – wide open and dusty red as far as the eye can see. It’s also full of quirky characters, like eccentric opal miner Sprocket McGinty and the enigmatic Taipan Dan.

As the gang settles in at Hope Springs Station, mysteries start piling up. A strange map is discovered indicating treasure beneath the paddocks, a young girl is missing and there are unexplained water shortages. Can Alice-Miranda get to the bottom of this desert dilemma?

~*~

Alice-Miranda is back! Across the series, Alice-Miranda has grown up whilst at boarding school at Winchesterfield-Downsfordvale, and in the most recent books, is now ten, almost eleven. In her latest adventure, she is off to the outback with her father, her uncle, her cousins, and her friends, Millie and Jacinta to visit Hope Springs. It’s a new adventure for everyone, and along the way, they’ll meet characters like Sprocket McGinty and Taipan Dan, and uncover secrets and mysteries that have been buried for years, search for a missing child and follow a treasure map to something fantastic. In true Alice-Miranda style, she takes the lead, and works with her friends and cousins to find out what is going on around them.

I’m fairly new to Alice-Miranda – but the beauty of this series is that I can read them in order or out of order and still know what is going on, and who is who – having read the first book helped with this and Jacqueline puts a cast of characters for each book in the back as well, which readers can refer to every now and then whilst reading. Having read the first and most recent books – where Alice-Miranda is seven and one quarter and ten respectively, I am keen to see how she grows up.

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Her latest adventure, in the outback, is uniquely Australian with the characters, setting and Australian slang peppered throughout. Some of the characters are Indigenous, and Jacqueline explains why they’re away at the start of the book in a respectful and simple way that readers who might not know much about Indigenous culture can understand, and then from there, go and research it for themselves and does so without speaking for the Indigenous characters. Hugh, Alice-Miranda’s father, explains things using his knowledge from the past. This forms one small part of the story – but seeing it acknowledged is important.

Characters and events that seem unrelated are – and Jacqueline knows when to drop hints, when to hold back and when to bring things to light in a way that is engaging, plot driven and makes the whole book work as a whole – and combined with her clever characters like Alice-Miranda, no fact is too small or insignificant to exclude. Everything piece of the puzzle eventually comes together, and astute readers will pick up on the clues. Whether you are able to do this, or everything comes together as a surprise for you at the end, it doesn’t matter – whichever way you read and pick these things up, you follow the same clues and path to the same conclusion, making this a fun read for all fans of Jacqueline Harvey and her books.

I loved the moment the kids had to choose a movie to watch – and the two choices referenced the Alice-Miranda series and Kensy and Max – this was lovely for readers of both series, as it shows that it is possible for each of these characters to exist in the other’s world, and from there, I wondered what would happen if Alice-Miranda were to meet Kensy and Max.

This book perfectly balanced the kids being alone and having adult supervision across the story. The kids were allowed to do their thing yet were responsible enough to follow instructions and keep adults informed. It shows that these kids are resourceful and responsible – but still kids and at times, they still need help from the adults in their lives. Jacqueline gets the balance for this right too.

I loved this one – and I’m planning to read the rest and see what else Alice-Miranda has been up to over the past ten years. This is a delightful series for middle grade readers of all ages and genders and I hope people love Alice-Miranda as much as I do.

Eloise and the Bucket of Stars by Janeen Brian

eloise and the bucket of starsTitle: Eloise and the Bucket of Stars

Author: Janeen Brian

Genre: Historical Fiction, Magical Realism

Publisher: Walker Books Australia

Published: 1st June 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 240

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: Left in a pail at an orphanage as a baby, only something magical can save Eloise from a miserable life and give her the one she’s always dreamed of.

Orphaned as a baby, Eloise Pail yearns for a family. Instead, she lives a lonely life trapped in an orphanage and made miserable by the cruel Sister Hortense. Befriended by the village blacksmith, Eloise soon uncovers some strange secrets of yesteryear and learns that something terrible may be about to happen to the village. As troubles and dangers mount, she must learn who to trust and choose between saving the village or belonging to a family of her own. Unless something truly magical happens…

  • A powerful tale of how magic weaves its way into the real world.
  • Explores themes of belonging, what it takes to be a friend and what constitutes a family.

~*~

Eloise has spent her whole life in an orphanage run by the cruel Sister Hortense. Sisters Genevieve and Bernard, Sister Genevieve in particular, try to help Eloise, and make things a little more bearable for her. Eloise has never been adopted – trapped in a cruel place that doesn’t value her. Her only place of solace and friendship with the local blacksmith, and his horse, Dancy. Her lessons with Sister Genevieve are cut shortly after Janie Pritchard, a newly orphaned girl arrives. At first, Eloise wants nothing to do with her, but the two soon become friends, and start to unravel the mystery of the poisoned water, and the unicorn stories that Sister Genevieve has told them.

Eloise wants a family more than anything – but Sister Hortense has a secret that has prevented this from happening and will do anything to punish and break Eloise, making her watch the Littlies get adopted and leave the orphanage with new families, and punishing her when she starts to look happy. But with a curse threatening the village, and whispers about men wanting to hunt the unicorn for their own gain. What will Eloise sacrifice to save the unicorn and her village?

Eloise and the Bucket of stars is a charming, delightful and magical story – set in an orphanage during Victorian times, it shows the hardships faced by orphans, and the treatment they received in places like the orphanage Eloise lived in. It also shows how harmful beliefs can be when taken to the extreme and the lengths people like Sister Hortense will go to protect dark secrets – even from those they work with, just to make sure they’re not outed as what drives her to punish Eloise.

AWW2020At its core, this is a story about friendship, being yourself and family – and what makes a family. How does someone like Eloise find a family, and find love, when every time she finds herself in a place where she is happy, it is taken away from her. The world is shown through Eloise’s eyes – and you truly feel for her. Eloise drives this story, and it is slow and lyrical on purpose – we’re meant to feel the drudgery and frustrations of Eloise’s daily life, and her feelings of hopelessness. It is gentle yet when action is required, it happens when and where it needs to.

Family and friendship are strong themes here, where the characters let their individuality, and bonds of friendship shine through the uniformity that Sister Hortense forces upon them. Sully, the cook, is one of Eloise’s friends. Everyone can see how Sister Hortense treats Eloise – but what will make her realise she needs to stop?

This tender story is about finding family and following your heart, and never giving up on your beliefs or compromising for anyone. Staying true to yourself and your dreams is a message at the core of this novel, and it moves gently and eloquently through towards this goal. It is one of those novels that demands time be spent with it to take everything in and let it sink in properly, following Eloise on her journey – the physical journey to get water every day and her own inner journey to finding family and friendship. It is Janie who sparks this journey and what will happen in the second half of the novel, and Janeen has created a beautiful story that will be beloved by many for years to come.

I loved this book – it evoked the same sense of wonder that The Secret Garden did all those years ago, with an orphaned child discovering magic beyond what she could ever imagine in a mundane world that didn’t appreciate her at first. Orphans are common in children’s literature and dealing with them in gentle ways, and each story is of course different, and this one had a sense of magic and wonder about it that many don’t, which is what made it so special and why I really enjoyed it, and hope that younger readers do as well.

Isolation Publicity with Kylie Howarth

 

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.

Howarth Headshot small
Kylie Howarth

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.

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Kylie Howarth is the author of several picture books, and the new Fish Kid series. The second Fish Kid book was released in March, as restrictions started coming in, and would have had launches and events cancelled. It looks like a really fun series, too. Like many authors, Kylie has turned to online publicity – the best we can do in these times, across as many channels as possible. I hope this interview helps more readers find their way to Kylie’s work.

 

D79FE724-A5A2-491F-870E-1F3600D3678B

Hi Kylie and welcome to The Book Muse

  1. You write and illustrate books – did you start with illustrating or writing, and when did you begin to combine the two?

Hello!

Initially a friend approached me to see if I’d illustrate a book she’d written. We soon discovered that was not the way things are usually done in the publishing industry. This sparked something in me though, so from there I began writing and illustrating my own stories and was lucky enough to find a publisher who was keen to acquire them.

  1. Can you tell my readers about your illustration process, and the mediums you work with?

I love to use my children’s paintings as background textures in my books. We have messy backyard art sessions, then I scan the textures we create into my computer. I’d usually draw all my linework in pencil on paper, then add colour and texture digitally. More recently though, I’ve begun drawing my linework in Procreate and illustrating my books on my iPad.

  1. What style of books do you usually write – picture books or longer works, and what age group do you aim to write for?

I initially started out creating only picture books as these were the type of books I was reading to my children. As they grew and became interested in junior fiction, I began writing and illustrating my Fish Kid chapter book series. I have two books in this series out now, which is great for kids aged 6 – 12 and am currently working on the third. I’m also working on a new picture book which is top secret for now.

  1. When you first submitted to a publisher, what was that process like, and how long did it take you to be accepted?

It took submitting three different picture book manuscripts before I had one accepted. A publisher I met a SCBWI event, was interested in my very first manuscript. She held onto it for a year! I’d sent her another in the meantime and eventually she contacted me to say they weren’t going to take either. She did however ask if I’d consider illustrating another author’s book. I agreed to take a look at the manuscript and at the same time, sent her a third story idea of my own. She picked up the phone five minutes after I’d sent ‘Fish Jam,’ and said she wanted to publish it! She then asked how soon I could get the final artwork to her.

 

  1. Did you have any new releases coming out in the next few months, and what were they?

Fish Kid and the Mega Manta Ray was just released in March.

 

  1. Did you have to cancel any events, launches or author appearances due to the pandemic, and if so, what were they?

Yes, my book launch for Fish Kid and the Mega Manta Ray was scheduled for the 29th of March. I’d ordered all the book stock, booked the venue, printed book marks and bought 2 boxes of sea creature lollies. My wonderful friends had bought manta ray cookie cutters, sea creature costumes and shark fin cupcake toppers, as they always help and support my book launches. Unfortunately the launch was cancelled due to the pandemic, so I’ve had to eat a lot of sea creature lollies all by myself.

School workshops and festival events I was booked for were also cancelled.

  1. What do you usually do during school visits, and how many have you had to cancel over the next few months?

At school visits I like to get kids excited about the themes in my books. For my Fish Kid talks I bring along shark egg cases, read out crazy fish facts, show them images of me diving with hammerhead sharks and swimming with humpback whales, and even play them songs on my conch shell! I explain how these experiences inspire the ideas for my stories. Then the kids draw along with me as I show them how to draw sea creatures step-by-step. For the younger kids, I’ll read them my ‘Chip’ picture books, teach them how to draw him, then we have fun brainstorming things we could find on the beach to dress him up in disguise.

I had several visits and events cancelled at the end of last term, as well as a trip to Sydney to promote the Dulux colouring in book I’d recently created. I’d normally start to get a lot of school visit bookings coming in now for Term 2 but that won’t be happening.

In saying that, I’m thrilled that the CBCA have delayed Book Week until Term 4 this year. Term 3 is usually the busiest for authors, and hopefully now, all our Book Week bookings will be postponed rather than cancelled.

 

  1. Your Fish Kid series looks like fun – what age group is it aimed at, and did you illustrate this series as well?

They are aimed at kids aged 7 – 12 but I’ve found that people of any age enjoy them.

I illustrated the first book in the series, Fish Kid and the Lizard Ninja, using pencil and ink on paper. Then I got my fancy new ipad and actually illustrated the second book digitally. So it’s interesting to compare the two – most people can’t see a difference.

  1. Your website says you run workshops for all ages – how do you alter these presentations for younger children compared to middle grade or young adult readers?

It’s actually fairly easy to adjust to the different age groups. I show them similar images and talk about similar things, but just add more detail for the older groups.

For the kindy kids I’ll print out a template with the basic shape of ‘Chip’ the seagull already on it, and they can add the beak and eyes etc from there. The older kids will get to do a few different drawings, develop their sea creatures further into characters and then begin thinking of story ideas for those characters as well.

  1. What is your favourite thing to draw – either for your books or just for fun?

Definitely sea creatures.

 

  1. Do you prefer in person events, or online events?

I do like in person events because its wonderful to engage and interact with the kids personally. In saying that, you can still do that to a degree online. You can also wear your Ugg boots!

  1. Favourite medium to work with, and why?

I love the HB pencil brush in Procreate. Working digitally is saving me so much time right now, particularly when I’m working on roughs. I can draw a scene quickly, erase, enlarge and move bits around, then hit ‘share’ and email it straight to my art director. No scanning or cleaning up the scanned images in photoshop.

  1. What inspires your stories and illustrations?

My kids and the adventures we have together. I write stories that I think they will love, about things that they are interested in. We spend a lot of time snorkelling and boating as a family, which is why the ocean is a consistent theme in my books.

 

  1. As an arts industry worker, what is the most important thing about the arts and supporting the arts for you?

If the pandemic has proved anything, it’s how important the arts really are. Everyone is relying on the arts for enjoyment, schooling, mental health and so many other reasons, right now. Its important to support our creators as the world would be a sad and boring place without us.

  1. Do you have a favourite local bookseller where you live? What do you like about them?

There are some fabulous bookstores in Western Australia and I thank them all for being so supportive of local authors. Paper Bird Children’s Books & Arts are particularly amazing. During the pandemic they’ve been running Home Club live on Instagram, where a different author or illustrator joins them each day, shows you around their studio and does craft and drawing activities with the kids watching. I was supposed to be on this week, but unfortunately tweaked my neck and have been bed ridden, but I’ve certainly enjoyed watching them all! If you don’t catch them live, you can watch the episodes later on YouTube.

Anything I may have missed?

Thank you, Kylie,

 

Isolation Publicity with Monique Mulligan

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Monique having high tea

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.

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Monique’s writing space

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.

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Monique has two books coming out this year – Alexandra Rose and her Icy Cold Toes with Serenity Press in May. The release and launch of this book have been affected by cancellations and her adult book, Wherever You Go, is out in September. So far, events in August and September – from what I can tell from these interviews – haven’t been affected as such yet. It will be interesting to see if they are, and how – if they are cancelled outright or have limited numbers based on distancing laws and how this might affect the overall event – will more time be allowed, or will there be multiple sessions?

 

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Hi Monique, and Welcome to The Book Muse

Thank you!

1. How did your writing career begin, and where did it begin?

In a way, my career has always involved writing of some sort – from training programs in the Australian Public Service and writing children’s curriculum for an educational publisher, to journalism, news editing, and later, publishing. When did I start writing creatively? After a few false starts around 2004-6, I would say late 2015, when on a whim, I entered a short story competition. My story was Highly Commended and I won a small cash prize. That gave me the confidence to try writing in different genres, but I soon realised what I wanted to do was write novels.

2. You’ve had several books and anthologies published with Serenity Press – what can you tell my readers about these books?

I have such a soft spot for these anthologies (which I also commissioned and edited as then editorial director of Serenity Press) – A Bouquet of Love and Destination Romance. Each one features ten emerging Australian writers and each story is linked to a common setting, such as a bridal shop and a travel agency. My stories are rom-coms – when I write romance, that is what I am drawn to (the same if I read a romance).

3. Do you still work with Serenity Press? If not, what are you focused on now?

I left Serenity Press in 2018 so I could focus more on my own writing. There were so many wonderful things about being a publisher, but I struggled to co-own a business and manage the editorial side, and find time to finish my novel. I also had a part-time job, which I still have, so something had to give.

4. Your new book, Wherever You Go, is out in September – has the COVID-19 health crisis affected any events or launches you have had planned for this, or another book – and also, both as an author and a publisher?

Not yet – it’s at copy edit stage so I haven’t planned launches yet. It’s being published through Pilyara Press and we’ll start looking at the marketing very soon. However, I do have a children’s book coming out next month – Alexandra Rose and her Icy-Cold Toes – with Serenity Press and I need to come up with some strategies for that!

5. You’ve worked as a publisher, newspaper editor, journalist, children’s curriculum writer and a magazine editor – what were the things you loved about each of these jobs, and what were their individual challenges?

Each of these jobs brought me wisdom and joy in many ways. As a publisher, I was able to commission some gorgeous books, such as Kate Forsyth’s fairy tale series, and travel to London for the London Book Fair and Northern Ireland for a writing retreat in a castle. But being a publisher was all-consuming and left little time for anything else.

As a journalist, newspaper editor and magazine editor, I had some fantastic experiences and met some wonderful people. But these were all high pressure jobs. I went from a casual journalist to senior journalist in a matter of weeks, and within two years, I was the newspaper editor. Big responsibility and late nights while juggling a growing family was really tough.

I was a curriculum writer when my boys were in the earlier years of primary school and the best thing was that I could work from home (back when this was a new thing) and still do all the school mum things I wanted to do. Funny thing, it paid better than all my other jobs! And they paid for me to fly to Sydney once a year … it was perfect for that time of my life.

6. Did any of the skills and techniques of the above jobs ever cross over?

Absolutely. Interviewing techniques, writing under pressure, knowing how to sell a story to a journalist – these are just some of the skills I carry from one role to another.

7. What is Wherever You Go about, and where did the inspiration come from?

Without giving away too much, Wherever You Go was inspired firstly by a news article that led me to wonder how grief and loss affects a marriage. I’ve always been more interested in how relationships worked than in the romance aspect. Other inspirations included my love of food and cooking, and Bridgetown, Western Australia, a place I’m thinking of moving to one day. Here’s the blurb:

A life-shattering tragedy threatens to tear apart chef Amy Bennet’s marriage. Desperate to save it, she moves with her husband Matt to Blackwood, a country town where no one knows who they are.

Forced to deal with her crumbling marriage and the crippling grief that follows her wherever she goes, Amy turns to what she knows best: cooking. She opens a café showcasing regional seasonal produce, and forms the Around the World Supper Club, serving mouth-watering feasts to new friends. As her passion for food returns, she finds a place for herself in Blackwood. But when a Pandora’s Box of shame and blame is unlocked, Matt gives Amy an ultimatum that takes their marriage to the edge.

8. What do you do/have you done with Stories on Stage?

I founded Stories on Stage in 2012 so my workplace could offer something literary in their arts programming. The events are held in a theatre and combine an in-conversation with a supper (home-made by me). It’s always a great night. Since 2012, I’ve hosted more than 50 Australian authors at Stories on Stage. This year, due to COVID-19, we’ve had to cancel our regular events so we’re starting an online edition. I’m excited because it means I can interview a lot of interstate authors who normally couldn’t make it to Perth.

9. You’ve done a lot of work in the arts sector – what has been the most rewarding thing about working in this industry?

One thing? That’s hard … but I’d have to say the connections I’ve made with such wonderful, talented creators. And the opportunities I’ve had to read early copies of books!

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

Lots of things. I love cooking for other people. It brings me pleasure to feed people and see them enjoying what I’ve made. And spending time with those I love brings me great joy.

I love taking photos, especially when I travel – so many times, I look at things and think ‘That would make a great photo’. But I also am being mindful of being in the moment and not always trying to capture a moment.

I love going for long walks (uphill, not so much), rambling around the countryside, and seeing new places.

And most nights, I look forward to chilling out with my husband, my cat on my lap, a glass of good wine in my hand, and watching whatever show or movie we’re into at the time. And later, I read, all sorts of books, whatever my mood tells me to read at the time.

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

Once I won first prize for a poem … but that was a long time ago. The closest I’ve come to winning since then is a Highly Commended. But, I don’t enter many things, and like the lottery, you’ve got to be in it to win it.

12. How do you think the arts industry will cope in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how can people help support the industry? Also, how important do you think the arts are in this time?

The arts industry has been terribly affected by COVID-19, restricting many creatives in sharing their experiences. It’s really tough when all the gigs that earn money are cancelled and there is such uncertainty about when things will change. But artists are survivors. They will survive, albeit by embracing different ways of sharing their experiences. What I have seen across the arts community is a beautiful ‘pulling together’, wherein artists help each other to share music, story, art and more in innovative ways. I hope this continues, because Art in all its forms has always helped people connect and keep on going.

How can people help? Buy books. Buy art. Buy music. Make the most of the free experiences being offered online. Tell people about it. Review whatever you buy.

13. Do you have any favourite authors or books that you always turn to?

Daphne du Maurier is one of my favourites, especially Rebecca. I’ve read it so many times. I was thrilled to visit a town she lived in for many years – Fowey, in Cornwall. I’ve started writing a gothic-style novel set in the Blue Mountains, NSW, because I love that genre so much. Stories with big old houses and secrets will always tempt me. I also recently discovered Sarah Waters and really admire her writing.

14. Even though I probably know this – favourite writing companion – cat or dog?

My rescue cat Boogle is my treasured writing companion. When it suits her, she sits on my lap while I write. Also, when it suits her, she sits in front of my screen and makes loud huffing noises.

15. Favourite writing snack?

Chips. It’s always potato chips. Original Smiths Crisps will get me every time.

16. Do you have a favourite local bookseller you are always going to?

We have a chain bookstore nearby which is okay, but I prefer independent bookshops, and none of those are close. I wish they were. I used to dream of owning a bookshop/café at one point, but not any more. I’d never find time to write if I did that! Booksellers work so hard – it’s definitely not as easy as it looks on TV.

17. What are you currently working on?

The Story You Tell, which is the second book in my Around the World Supper Club series. It picks up from Wherever You Go about two years later, but features a different main character. It’s partly inspired by the Echo and Narcissus myth.

18. What’s more of a challenge – shorter works, longer works, fiction or non-fiction?

Writing fiction is more challenging for me than non-fiction – that just flows, probably due to my journalistic background. All forms have their challenges, but I find writing short stories – not my rom-coms though, they just about fell onto the page – harder than long form. Maybe it’s because I can tend to waffle on when I tell anyone a story … you know, you have to set the scene first and give the context. Right?

19. You write for a variety of audiences under the same name, where some authors choose separate names for different genres or audiences – what made you decide to maintain the same name across all books? (This by the way, is something I support – I’m curious as to why different people do it differently).

I’ve thought about this from time to time – should I have a different name for different genres? But I’ve worked hard to build the platform I have under one name, and I don’t want to have to start from scratch. Or look after yet another set of social media accounts – I already have my own plus a work one to look after. It does my head in sometimes!

Also, I have no plans to write more children’s books, so I’m comfortable with maintaining the same name for my future writing.

20. Finally, what is next for your writing career?

Biting my nails and pacing for weeks once Wherever You Go is launched … writing the next book …

I dream of being invited to writers festivals and having a book tour … of having the opportunity to research a book idea overseas.

But in the more immediate future, I just need to stop procasti-cleaning, watching hilarious cat videos or making cups of tea, and write.

You can find Monique at:
Website: moniquemulligan.com
Twitter: @MoniqueMulligan
Instagram: @moniquemulliganauthor
Facebook: Monique Mulligan, Author

Anything I may have missed?