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!

Books and Bites Bingo Book to movie: Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr

books and bites game card
My next square is the one for book to movie. For this option, there were many, many options from Harry Potter to Jane Austen, The Book Thief and Northern Lights (The Golden Compass), which is now a television show and will be marking off my book to television category later this year in another challenge.

As luck would have it, I received the new bind-up edition of Nim’s Island, celebrating twenty-one years since it was first published, and I have seen the movie, so this worked for this challenge and another that had a book to movie adaptation choice.

NimsIsland_roughs

I chose this because it was a fun read as well, and I’m trying to see how many review books work for my reading challenges, and how many they crossover into as well – in doing so, across the first few months of the year, I have managed to knock off quite a few categories and squares. Some books have filled in more than others.

I need to watch Nim’s Island again sometime but for now, I’m trying to focus on the reading. Before I used this book, I had The Book Thief earmarked for this category. It’s one of those categories that is open and can change – and those are the ones I am aiming to mark off first, as some are more specific, sometimes down to the author or the book, and some specific to a month – so I have to wait until then to fill them in.

One category that comes up in two challenges I might have trouble with is the book you haven’t finished or that you have said you’ve read but haven’t – as I finish the books I commit to. So those could be a challenge, but I might find some way to tweak and stretch them so it works for my means.

Her Perilous Mansion by Sean Williams

her perilous mansionTitle: Her Perilous Mansion

Author: Sean Williams

Genre: Fantasy/Magical Realism

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 28th April 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: Perfectly pitched standalone middle grade fantasy – exciting, intriguing and thoroughly satisfying.

In a strange mansion miles from anywhere, an orphan named Almanac and a twelfth daughter named Etta find themselves working – and bickering – side by side in the largely deserted rooms. But soon they realise that the house and its inhabitants are not quite what they seem, and there’s more at stake than just their jobs. Can they solve the puzzle of Her Perilous Mansion before it’s too late?

Almanac is an orphaned boy who can’t forget; Etta is the youngest of twelve unwanted daughters. Invited to work at a mysterious mansion mile from anywhere, they discover the inhabitants are a little…odd. Lady Simone never gets out of bed. Lord Nigel is always locked in his office, and Olive lives in a hidden boiler room and communicates only by code. Etta and Almanac soon realise that the mansion and its residents have secrets they are reluctant to give up, and there’s more at stake than just their jobs. In a world where the line between magic and the written word is often dangerous, can they solve the puzzle of Her Perilous Mansion before its too late?

~*~

Imagine being drawn and mysteriously invited to a mansion in the middle of nowhere. This is the fate that awaits Etta and Almanac. Etta is the youngest of twelve unwanted daughters, and Almanac is an orphan. When they arrive, each sees a different name on the plaque out the front – and here is where their bickering begins. Yet once in, they both receive mysterious messages from those they are meant to serve – yet nobody is around. Etta and Almanac stumble across a mysterious spell linked to the house and those who dwell in the house.

When they realise where they are and those they connect with are not quite what they seem, Etta and Almanac are thrust on a journey to solve a puzzle, and free those who seem to be trapped there.

Wow. This is a fantastic read. It is filled with mystery, magic, fantasy, ghosts, all in what feels like a very Victorian England setting – filled with playful characters, a fairy tale-esque feel of an orphan needing to break a spell. One might say Almanac is the diamond in the rough much like Aladdin was. Chosen, so to speak, or at least destined, to uncover the puzzle of the mansion.

Hints at this puzzle are dropped on every page cleverly, like a cipher, almost. What is it about this house that has everyone trapped in specific places, why do Almanac and Etta never see anyone else, and who is behind these mysterious notes that tell them what they should be doing? Yet there are things that those Etta and Almanac know are there cannot say, cannot warn them about. The spell needs to be broken; they need to find the sorcerer who cast it. And this forms part of the puzzle and mystery. This puzzle is imbued and present on every page, filling the story with just the right amount of intrigue. Sean Williams knows when to deliver information and when to hold back, leaving gaps for the reader to try and solve the puzzle, or look at how it might work.

Each page is thrilling, and filled to the brim with worry, friendship and a desire to solve an ongoing mystery that nobody before them has managed to. It is a delightfully exciting adventure, filled with mystery and magic that weaves in and out of every sentence, and pulls the reader into its wide web of power. Truly one of the most intriguing aspects of the mansion is just who the owner is and who the her is –  it is a fantastic middle grade book that combines fantasy and magical realism to create a world that is equally mysterious and fantastical, far enough away for it to be within a fairy tale world, but at the same time, feels as though it could really exist in a Victorian England setting.

Middle grade readers who enjoy fantasy will love this book, and  be swept up by its magic and fun as they go on a perilous adventure to u cover secrets that have been buried for decades.

April 2020 Round Up

In April, we found ourselves amidst a pandemic – and I found myself with an influx of review books, some quite long, and some not so long. As I usually do, I aim to read ahead in my review stack, to get things cleared, and posted or scheduled to save time. I’m still a bit behind, reading some books that should be on this list on the day of writing and posting. However, this is the case due to the fact that the books may have arrived after or a day before publication date due to the current overload of deliveries due to the COVID-19 crisis we’re facing.

I’ve also been doing an Isolation Publicity series with Australian authors – which by the looks of things will take me into mid – late August at this stage, a month short of the planned lockdown. Some of these interviews are really exciting and make me wish I could share them now, but the schedule means everyone gets a special day for their interview. Many authors have had launches cancelled, festivals and appearance cancelled or moved online – which has meant a loss of income and has been detrimental to the arts sector. These authors need the love and publicity the book blogging community can give them so their work can get into the hands of readers.

I read 19 books this month, and all except The Austen Girls and The Unadoptables have a live review at this stage. The Austen Girls will be appearing around the 19th of May with several other reviews and posts. The latter is appearing in June. I also ticked off a few challenge categories – not as many as I had hoped, however, I am getting there and should hopefully have filled them all in by the end of the year.

April – 19

Book Author Challenge
The Deceptions Suzanne Leal AWW2020, Reading Challenge
Puppy Diary: The Great Toy Rescue Yvette Poshoglian AWW2020, Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge
The Octopus and I Erin Hortle AWW2020, Reading Challenge
Friday Barnes: Big Trouble R.A. Spratt AWW2020, Reading Challenge, The Modern Mrs Darcy
The Strangeworlds Travel Agency

 

L.D. Lapinski Reading Challenge, Books and Bites Bingo
Inheritance of Secrets Sonya Bates Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire Nat Amoore Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Jane in Love Rachel Givney Reading Challenge, AWW2020, Dymocks Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily
Persuasion Jane Austen Reading Challenge, Books and Bites Bingo
The Austen Girls Lucy Worsley Reading Challenge
The Unadoptables Hana Tooke Reading Challenge
Friday Barnes: No Rules R.A. Spratt Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Anzac Girl: The War Diaries of Alice Ross-King Kate Simpson and Hess Racklyeft Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery Renée Treml Reading Challenge, AWW2020, The Modern Mrs Darcy (Nominated for the 2020 Readings Children’s Prize)
Shortlisted Readings Children’s Book Prize 2020 AU; Shortlisted Speech Pathology Award, Eight to Ten Years 2019 AU 
Nim’s Island Wendy Orr AWW2020, Reading Challenge, STFU Reading Challenge
Ribbit Rabbit Robot Victoria MacKinlay and Sofya Karmazina AWW2020, Reading Challenge
Nim at Sea Wendy Orr AWW2020, Reading Challenge
Rescue on Nim’s Island Wendy Orr AWW2020, Reading Challenge
The Complete Adventures on Nim’s Island Wendy Orr AWW2020, Reading Challenge, STFU Reading Challenge

Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery by Renée Treml

sherlock bonesTitle: Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery

Author: Renée Treml

Genre: Mystery

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: April 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 272

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: A hilariously funny, action-packed mystery, starring the intrepid Sherlock Bones.

‘Hi there, I’m Sherlock Bones.
Who is Sherlock Bones, you ask? Well, I don’t like to brag, but my trusty side-kick Watts says I’m the greatest detective in our whole museum.
Don’t you, Watts?
Watts…?’

You might not be able to hear Watts, because she’s technically a stuffed parrot, but I always know what she’s thinking.

And right now she’s thinking: Can we solve the mystery of the missing Blue Diamond and save the Museum of Natural History, before it’s too late?

~*~

Sherlock Bones is a skeleton – a frogmouth skeleton on exhibition in the natural museum in Sydney, and he has a trusty sidekick – Watts. But Watts is a stuffed parrot, and the people who work at the museum are unaware that Sherlock Bones moves around. When the Blue Diamond goes missing, Sherlock Bones investigates – along with Watts and their new friend, Grace – a raccoon who has stowed away and found herself in the museum, helping look for the diamond. Will Sherlock Bones and his companions find the diamond, and is the thief closer than they thought?

Told in a graphic novel style, the clues are dropped cleverly throughout as we follow the trail to find out what has happened to the diamond. It is a light-hearted mystery for kids aged six to nine, and books like these can grow their confidence in reading before they move onto short chapter books and novels for middle grade readers. Renée wrote and illustrated this book – and it is exquisitely and perfectly done. As readers, even though the illustrations are in black and white, they are still filled with fun and help to tell the story along with the words.

AWW2020

As someone who hasn’t read many graphic novels before, it was an adjustment, but it didn’t take long, even though I had to check some panels a few times to make sure I knew what I had read or seen was right. At times, I flicked back a few pages as I wondered if I had missed something – if I had, it only took me a few minutes to get back into the groove. The story was really well told and plotted, and I thoroughly enjoyed this new experience. It might take some adjustment to a new format but I think a book like this is a really good place to start, as whilst the story is simple, it still has the same complexities we might expect from a novel, these just come in a visual format.

It was also a great take on the traditional Sherlock Holmes narrative, and a good way to get kids into a new genre, style and way of reading.

Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery is also on the shortlist for the Readings Children’s Book Prize for this year. Judging for this prize ends on the 30th of April.

 

Friday Barnes: No Rules by R.A. Spratt

Friday barnes 4Title: Friday Barnes: No Rules

Author: R.A. Spratt

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Penguin Random House/Puffin

Published: 7th May 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages:  256

Price: $15.99

Synopsis: What if every clue points in the wrong direction?

Friday Barnes has been deported to Switzerland! With their in-school detective gone, Highcrest Academy has descended into chaos. Someone’s fired all the teachers!

The Headmaster claims it wasn’t him, and suspicion soon turns to Ian Wainscott, but Friday won’t stand by and let her favourite nemesis take the blame. Apart from being innocent (probably), he’s seriously good-looking. There’s also the problem of the new vice principal and his questionable teaching methods. It’s hard to take someone seriously when they wear tie-dyed t-shirts. Can Friday save Ian’s scholarship? Can she find the prankster before they bring down the school? Can she run the cross country? She’s certainly going to try . . . to do the first two, anyway.

~*~

The fourth Friday Barnes book begins with Friday being deported – she was born in Switzerland and her parents forgot to apply for Australian citizenship for her – so her name is Swiss too. It doesn’t take long before she gets home though and is faced with a school in chaos. All the Highcrest teachers have been fired, and VP Pete has introduced new teaching methods that are at odds with the other teachers. But is he hiding something, and what does he have planned for Highcrest? Only Friday Barnes can find out!

Friday and Melly are back at their investigative tricks – trying to find out who would want the teachers fired and why they would frame Ian Wainscott – whom Melanie insists is Friday’s boyfriend.

I love Friday’s attempts to get out of cross country too – and the mystery thickens when the trail causes trouble – can Friday reveal the real culprit and convince the Headmaster he’s wrong about Ian?

With her usual humour and bluntness, Friday interrogates students and investigates side cases for other students, and negotiates payment and her ability to stay at Highcrest with the forever suffering Headmaster, who relies on Friday to investigate what is happening yet at the same time, wishes she’d keep her head down – and on that, they are constantly agreeing. Friday’s one constant parental figure is Uncle Bernie, who is always ready to help Friday in her shenanigans.

 

AWW2020

I’m loving this series – it’s great to see a female character be who she is – awkward, shy and into school and all kinds of subjects from history to science, and is always ready with facts as needed. Characters like Friday expand what we expect from our literary heroes and show that every experience and every type of characters can work effectively and tell a good story. It also shows kids that there are people like them – that the world isn’t divided into popular and unpopular kids. There are so many different types of kids and personalities.

This series brings boarding schools, mystery and so many things together for readers to life and ensures that the journey is never ending – it is a series that definitely needs to be read in order. I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

 

The Besties Make A Splash by Felice Arena and Tom Jellett

the besties make a spalshTitle: The Besties Make A Splash

Author: Felice Arena and Tom Jellett

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 28th April 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 80

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: From the author and illustrator of the popular Sporty Kids books comes an exciting new beginner-reader series that celebrates the everyday adventures – at school, at home, in the backyard, even in the living room! A funny, sweet series about kids being kids, where imagination and play rule!

Oliver and Ruby have been besties forever . . .
Oliver and Ruby love going to the beach – swimming in the surf, wading in the rockpools and eating ice-cream! And it gets even better when their funny friend Zac and the coolest girl in school turn up. But what if your bestie is having more fun with someone else?

~*~

Another really great early reader’s book for kids aged five to eight years old, the next book in The Besties series delivers a fun, fast-paced and quirky story for kids. Again, it displays diversity – mainly racial and gender at this stage, to show that friendship can cross many kinds of boundaries.

Oliver and Ruby always have fun together, and in this installment, they head to the beach to swim together in the rock pools when Zac and Isabella show up – Zac splashes with Ruby, and Isabella and Oliver go for a walk. Yet Zac and Isabella soon find that they’re not having that much fun with Ruby and Oliver. Ruby and Oliver don’t enjoy the ways Zac and Isabella have fun. So will they realise that they really do have more fun with each other than other people?

This book is a great story about friendship and trying new things and it also says it is okay to go back to what you like, and what you know if you don’t enjoy the new thing. It is about the power of friendship and what it means to know who your friends are and the sharing of interests that can bring friends together.

It is a fun book, aimed at early readers, and might even be a bit more of a challenge for those seeking a story with a little more to the story, yet still like shorter chapters and simple vocabuluary.

Another great book for early readers to enjoy and learn how to read with.