Finding Eadie by Caroline Beecham

Finding EadieTitle: Finding Eadie

Author: Caroline Beecham

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 2nd July 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The author of Maggie’s Kitchen and Eleanor’s Secret delivers another compelling story of love and mystery during wartime.

London 1943: War and dwindling resources are taking their toll on the staff of Partridge Press. The pressure is on to create new books to distract readers from the grim realities of the war, but Partridge’s rising star, Alice Cotton, leaves abruptly and cannot be found.

Alice’s secret absence is to birth her child, and although her baby’s father remains unnamed, Alice’s mother promises to help her raise her tiny granddaughter, Eadie. Instead, she takes a shocking action.

Theo Bloom is employed by the American office of Partridge. When he is tasked with helping the British publisher overcome their challenges, Theo has his own trials to face before he can return to New York to marry his fiancee.

Inspired by real events during the Second World War, Finding Eadie is a story about the triumph of three friendships bound by hope, love, secrets and the belief that books have the power to change lives.

~*~

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Caroline Beecham’s stories about women in World War Two are mainly set on the home front, and look at lesser known stories about what women did in the war, and the various industries that contributed to the war effort on the home front. In Finding Eadie the publishing industry and books play a large role, alongside the mystery of Alice Cotton, her absence, and the three friendships – Alice and Ursula, Alice and Theo and Alice and Penny – that drive the novel. The truth of Alice’s absence is known to very few  people – she is pregnant and must go away to have her child, before returning with a story that explains why she has one. Yet soon after the birth, Alice awakens to discover her daughter, Eadie missing, and a note from her mother that sets in motion a search for Eadie that takes many weeks and months. At the same time, Theo Bloom, from New York, has come to save Partridge Press in London – and in time, Alice is helped by three friends in her search for Eadie, combining her research with an idea for books that will save the publishing house. But Theo will find he saves much more, and the power of love and friendship will change everything.

Finding Eadie is a story of family, love, and friendship – love of one’s child, love of books and reading, and love of all kinds – it does not shy away from the harsh realities of the war and what Eadie and Ursula face either. Caroline has confronted these issues head on and allowed the reader to see them for what they were – even when using a simple scene or a few simple words – it works to evoke a sense of the times and place, and what these characters faced or had to hide to appear acceptable to society. It was perhaps this that made Ursula and Alice’s friendship the strongest for me and the most meaningful. They both faced being shunned by society for who they were, and to me, they found comfort and solidarity in each other – they did not reject the other based on these circumstances, for they knew what it was to be rejected for who they were.

This beautiful friendship, the support from the beginning of the book, and Ursula’s care for, and faith in Alice was one of the most powerful and most enduring aspects of the novel- from the publishing house to the events towards the end of the book, it was clear that Ursula was truly there for Alice, as were Penny and Theo – and everything they helped her with led to the climatic final chapters, and an acceptance of everything that had happened to lead to those events. It is a touching story that proves family is what we make it and sometimes our friends become our family. It also shows that friendship is powerful, and the damage, or near damage that secrets can do.

My other favourite thing about this book was the focus on publishing and books during the war, and what they meant to people during this time – both on the home front and soldiers in the battlefields. They were a comfort – like they are during the pandemic – they gave people some place else to be during those hard times. This book is as much an ode to books and publishing as it is to friendship and justice. This is done in an exquisite and sensitive way, that reveals a dark underbelly of wartime London, with a touch of hope even in the midst of secrets, all bound together by the power of books and some determination and grit from all the characters to bring about real change – and that is based on real events of the 1940s.

 

Tashi: 25th Anniversary Edition by Anna Fienberg, Barbara Fienberg and Kim Gamble

Tashi 25Title: Tashi: 25th Anniversary Edition

Author: Anna Fienberg, Barbara Fienberg and Kim Gamble

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 16th June 2020

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 112

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: Tashi’s adventures have been loved by children all over the world for twenty-five years. This special edition of the original Tashi book celebrates Tashi’s anniversary, and includes a story about Tashi’s first birthday, ‘Tashi and the Silver Cup’, and ‘Kidnapped!’ from Tashi’s Storybook.

OVER ONE MILLION COPIES SOLD!

For twenty-five years Tashi has been telling fabulous stories. He escaped from a war lord in a faraway place and flew to this country on the back of a swan. And he wished he would find a friend just like Jack. In this first book of his daring adventures, Tashi tells Jack about the time he tricked the last dragon of all. Now, a whole generation of readers will know that when Tashi says, ‘Well, it was like this …’ an exciting new adventure is about to begin. This special anniversary edition includes the stories ‘Tashi and the Silver Cup’ and ‘Kidnapped!’ together for the first time.

‘The Tashi stories are some of my all-time favourites: a world within a world and a magical place for children to lose themselves in.’ Sally Rippin, bestselling author of Polly and Buster and Billie B. Brown

‘All children should meet Tashi. He can be their mentor on the road to reading, feeding their imaginations with fantastic stories. The Tashi stories have the evergreen qualities of classics.’ Magpies

‘I read my kids Tashi – it’s this story that they love.’ Angelina Jolie

~*~

Tashi is one of those series of books that children have loved since it the first book was published back in 1995 – and was one of those books that was always out at the library! And then it felt like it disappeared – or maybe it was just always sold out or borrowed when I checked. So this is the first time I’ve been able to read an entire Tashi book, written by Anna and her mother, Barbara, and delightfully illustrated by the late Kim Gamble, who died in 2016. I remember meeting Kim at school at an illustrator visit and buying his book You Can Draw Anything – which I still have, and he signed it. He was lovely and encouraging – and we all knew him as ‘the Tashi illustrator’, because Tashi was so big at our school!

AWW2020

Anna and Barbara’s story about Tashi, and his adventures with dragons and giants, stories he tells Jack, are as well-known as many of the older stories and classics of childhood. It has a quasi-fairy tale/fantasy feel to it. Jack and his parents live in the real world, but Tashi is from another world where giants and dragons live, and where he has used his wits and tricks to get out of tricky situations and get back to his family. Anna and Barbara have told a whimsical and magical adventure for younger children about being brave, about family, and about friendship. Their words weave a special kind of magic around the reader. Even as an adult, I could feel the magic and wonder of the words just as they would be for younger readers.

The words are accompanied by Kim Gamble’s delightfully playful black and white illustrations that tell as much of the story as the words do and give life to the characters beyond the page. This is a delightful book that will enchant all ages and is sure to become an Australian classic that will be visited and revisited for generations to come.

 

Monty’s Island: Scary Mary and the Stripe Spell by Emily Rodda and Lucinda Gifford (Illustrator)

montys island 1Title: Monty’s Island: Scary Mary and the Stripe Spell
Author: Emily Rodda and Lucinda Gifford (Illustrator)
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: March 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 176
Price: $14.99
Synopsis: Monty lives on a perfect island in the middle of a magical sea. Sometimes the sea throws up something interesting … and Monty goes on an amazing adventure!
On a tiny island far away, in a sea that ripples with magic, Monty never knows what he might find…

Monty, Tawny and friends receive some startling news: Scary Mary and her pirate crew are on their way, looking for a new island to call home.

What can they do? There’s no way they can hide – especially when Bunchy accidentally turns the whole island stripy with her new magic wand.

It’s going to take one of Monty’s best ideas to save them!

An adventurous and delightful new series from beloved author Emily Rodda.

~*~

Emily Rodda’s new series for junior readers, Monty’s Island, is a fun new adventure. Set on a tropical island, a young boy, Monty, lives there with his friends, Marigold, Bunchy the magical elephant, Tawny the lion, Sir Wise the Owl and Clink the Pirate Parrot. As the day starts, the Laughing Traveller, a dolphin, swims by to warn Monty and his friends that the dreaded pirate, Scary Mary and her crew are headed towards the island – they want a new home. As they try to hide, Bunchy turns the whole island stripey in an attempt to hide them from the pirate crew. So what do they do? How will they break the spell and defend themselves and their home? Monty will have to come up with a brilliant idea to help his home and his friends!

The start of a new series is always exciting, and this one aimed at readers aged between six and eight is no exception. It is a child and animal driven world, where the characters stand together and find a way to solve their problems and challenges together. It is a story of family and friendship, with magic and adventure. This series, where the main character, Monty, and his friends, loos to be a promising and fun series for younger readers and anyone who likes a good story. It is filled with humour, magic and diverse characters who exist for who they are, and what they do. Each brings something unique, interesting and fun to the story.

AWW2020It is the little things that make the world of Monty’s Island easy to slip into and live in. I read this one in preparation for the second one, should I get it for review, and found it charming and delightful. The adventure in this story is on a smaller scale to Deltora Quest – which is aimed at confident middle grade readers whilst this is aimed at early readers. Long-time fans of Emily Rodda will love this new book and series, and it will bring a new generation of readers to her entire back catalogue.

Setting a series on an island, where the child character drives much of the action with his talking animal friends is something that I think many readers will be eager to experience – Monty is unrestrained in some ways yet in others, he still has things to learn. He is also a great problem solver, and loyal to his friends on the island. Friendship and individuality and coming together are the key themes in this novel, with encouragement and kindness driving the way for the friends to solve the problem of the Stripe Spell and Scary Mary.

This was a delightful book to read, and an excellent series opener. It sets the scene well, and opens the door for so many adventures to come. It is a series I will be watching eagerly!

Shoestring: The Boy Who Walks on Air by Julie Hunt, Dale Newman

ShoestringTitle: Shoestring: The Boy Who Walks on Air
Author: Julie Hunt, Dale Newman
Genre: Fantasy, Magical Realism
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 2nd June 2020
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 368
Price: $19.99
Synopsis: A gripping illustrated adventure about a travelling circus troupe, a future-telling macaw and a cursed pair of gloves that Shoestring must conquer once and for all. A companion to the award-winning KidGlovz.
‘Shoestring loved the sudden intake of breath when he stepped onto the rope. The upturned faces of the audience made him think of coins scattered at his feet, more coins than he had ever taken when he was a pickpocket.’

Twelve-year-old Shoestring is leaving behind his life of crime and starting a new career with the Troupe of Marvels. Their lead performer, he has an invisible tightrope and an act to die for. But trouble is brewing – the magical gloves that caused so much turmoil for KidGlovz are back.

When he’s wearing the gloves, the world is at Shoestring’s fingertips. It’s so easy to help himself to whatever he likes – even other people’s hopes and dreams. But when he steals his best friend’s mind, he’s at risk of losing all he values most.

A thrilling, heart-in-the-mouth adventure of ambition, friendship and the threads that bind from the award-winning creators of KidGlovz.

~*~

In a fantastical world, there is a young thief called Shoestring, who lives with the woman who raised him. Until now, he has been a thief for most of his twelve years. When the Troupe of Marvels finds out about his talent – walking on an invisible tightrope. Yet a troublesome pair of gloves that once caused mayhem are back, and taking control of Shoestring, making him steal unthinkable things – not just items, but pieces of people – the troupe sets out to help him and destroy the gloves, and get Shoestring back to the young boy they know.

With Shoestring able to take whatever he wants – even things that someone can’t see, trouble starts to brew as the gloves start to control Shoestring and convince him to do things he’d never think about doing. Things start to go wrong when he sets out to find Metropolis, May’s old parrot who has been kidnapped, and falls into the hands of Marm – this is where the mystery begins and where we find out more about what is behind the stories of Shoestring, Marm, May, Metropolis and the gloves begins and the action picks up as the narrative moves between Metropolis telling the story – these parts are in bold, whilst the rest of the story is told in prose, as a third person perspective tells the story. And evokes a sense of everyone telling their part of the story around the campfire.

AWW2020This technique is coupled with some illustrations with speech bubbles – the same style used in graphic novels, and all the illustrations by Dale Hunt make the world Shoestring and his troupe live in really come to life as you read. It is not one that can be dipped in and out of, nor read in one sitting. This is one of those books that must be savoured and enjoyed. It is one that needs to be savoured – that needs to be read over time, and where every page has a new clue as to what might happen but is also filled with twists and turns as Shoestring fights with the gloves and the control they have over him.

Magical, transient gloves that have a mind of their own is a worrying, curious and troublesome – what do these gloves want, and why are they targeting Shoestring and the troupe. It weaves the history of the characters and the world they inhabit throughout the narrative seamlessly, telling an evocative story of ambition and friendship, and the lengths people will go to so they can help those they care about. And how will they help Shoestring fix things? This is a story of loyalty and friendship, and family – and the sacrifices we make to help those we love and care about. It is a lovely book – one that will be loved by all readers over the age of eight and will enthral and enchant readers as they enter this fantastical world and have them on the edge of their seats as they go on the journey with Shoestring and the rest of the troupe.

It does refer back to a previous book by the same author and illustrator team, but enough information is given that they can be read separately, but also, together. It is a beautiful story, and one that will be loved and treasured.

On A Barbarous Coast by Craig Cormick and Harold Ludwick

barbarous coastTitle: On A Barbarous Coast
Author: Craig Cormick and Harold Ludwick
Genre: Speculative Historical Fiction
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 2nd June 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 320
Price: $29.99
Synopsis: On a Barbarous Coast is an alternative retelling of Captain James Cook’s story co-written by Craig Cormick and Harold Ludwick in the tradition of imagined histories.
We were becoming the wild things we most feared, but could not see it at the time.

On a night of raging winds and rain, Captain Cook’s Endeavour lies splintered on a coral reef off the coast of far north Australia. A small disparate band of survivors, fracturing already, huddle on the shore of this strange land – their pitiful salvage scant protection from the dangers of the unknown creatures and natives that live here.

Watching these mysterious white beings, the Guugu Yimidhirr people cannot decide if they are ancestor spirits to be welcomed – or hostile spirits to be speared. One headstrong young boy, Garrgiil, determines to do more than watch and to be the one to find out what exactly they are.

Fierce, intriguing and thoughtful, On a Barbarous Coast is the story of a past and future that might have been.

‘Australia’s “origin” story brilliantly re-imagined, in which Indigenous Australians rightfully assume their central place.’ Susan Johnson, author of The Broken Book

~*~

We all know the story of Captain Cook and the Endeavour, and from there, the story of the First Fleet and colonisation. We know it mostly from the perspective of those who were in power and recorded their version of events at the time – the official record. What we don’t know is how the people whose names and voices often ignored or not heard saw these events and interacted with those in power and with each other. What would have happened to our historical record if these voices had been given a chance to share their stories? Alternatively, what if Captain Cook’s story had a different ending?

This is what Craig Cormick – a non-Indigenous author, and his co-author, Harold Ludwick – an Indigenous author (Guugu Yimidhirr and Kuku Yalanji descent) have posited in their book, On A Barbarous Coast. Using historical figures and records, and oral stories, the story takes a different tack – where the Endeavour is shipwrecked, Captain Cook injured and the survivors splinter into two groups – the armed marines, and the unarmed botanist – Joseph Banks, and several other crew members. Craig tells the white man’s story through the eyes of Magra, and the struggle to survive – the fear of the unknown, and the feeling of not knowing what to do or expect from anyone – except those in his group. He’s even scared of Judge and the other marines and hopes to try and communicate to the Indigenous people these fears.

Harold tells the Indigenous perspective through the eyes of a young boy named Garrgiil, who spies on these white strangers and reports back to his clan and family. They are just as cautious of interacting as the book moves along, and both groups are curious. Yet there are layers of what one group understands as right and wrong in their contexts. This is shown through alternating chapters. Each character is given a unique voice, and authentically shows their different understandings of the world – for Garrgiil, it’s the sacred land that the newcomers are sheltered on. For Magra and his fellow crewmates, they are just glad to be on dry land, and are not sure who they will encounter or where – or indeed how.

Much of the novel revolves around their observations of each other and quest to survive and maintain the way they live. For Magra and his group, it is the hope that someone will find them and be able to take them home. What happened in the years following 1770 and 1788 could have been very different if the newcomers and the Indigenous people had been able to work together and find a way to live together peacefully – which is what this novel posits. It is an interesting thing to consider – how different might Australia as we know it have been if everyone was given the chance to contribute to how the country was run and formed, and how developments and changes might have happened differently. What would have changed and how, isn’t expanded on in this novel beyond the integration of those from the Endeavour and Garrgiil’s people – that is left up to the imagination and what we know of history. This what if type novel explores themes of history and integration and looks at how things could have been very different if attempts at communication had been made and attempts to understand each other and the first people here were made. We cannot go back and change the past – we can only change how we interact and understand each other going forward, and part of doing this is to learn about the stories that are not often heard and that were often ignored or left out of the history books used for many years in education. What this book offers is a different way of looking at our history and understanding of how our nation was formed.

In collaborating and finding two very unique and distinct voices that both stood out as individual people but also melded together to create an engaging story, Cormick and Ludwick have looked at the stories and records from both sides – oral and written, to bring this speculative historical fiction to life that explores first contact, misunderstandings and differing world views that illustrate how each character sees the world and where they realise they might be wrong – or might just need to work together towards an understanding of each other, even though each will always be different in some ways.

This was a unique story, told in a unique and collaborative way that made me wonder if our historical record would be richer if we had always had that collaboration, and if we did, and it was hidden, whether it would have made a difference to how we understand and relate to the history of Australia as we know it.

A Treacherous Country by K.M. Kruimink

A Treacherous CountryTitle: A Treacherous Country
Author: K.M. Kruimink
Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 21st April 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 256
Price: $29.99
Synopsis: The winner of the prestigious literary award that has launched over a hundred authors – The Australian/Vogel’s Literary award
WINNER OF THE AUSTRALIAN/VOGEL’S LITERARY AWARD

There is a woman, somewhere, here, in Van Diemen’s Land, unless she had died or otherwise departed, called Maryanne Maginn.

Gabriel Fox, the young son of an old English house, arrives in a land both ancient and new.

Drawn by the promise of his heart’s desire, and compelled to distance himself from pain at home, Gabriel begins his quest into Van Diemen’s Land.

His guide, a Cannibal who is not all he seems, leads him north where Gabriel might free himself of his distracting burden and seek the woman he must find. As Gabriel traverses this wild country, he uncovers new truths buried within his own memory.

Authentic, original and playful, A Treacherous Country is a novel of loyalty, wisdom and the freedom to act.

~*~

When Gabriel Fox arrives in Australia in 1820 – just over thirty years since the First Fleet arrived, he sets out with his Irish companion, called his Cannibal, to Van Diemen’s land in search of a woman who was transported thirty years ago – Maryanne Maginn. But he’s also running away from pain at home, and seeking something new, which he hopes to find in this wild country – as seen through the eyes of those who came here from Europe. On this quest into Van Diemen’s land, Gabriel does not know what he will find nor what dangers he will stumble across as he seeks to find this woman who was transported when she was very young. As Gabriel searches for her, her learns more about this country and land that is new to him – yet so ancient for others, and for another group, it is a prison. Gabriel’s task is simple – find out whether Maryanne is dead or alive – and survive his journey.

The story is told solely through Gabriel’s eyes, so we see the results of colonisation through his lens and what others tell him about the convicts and displacement – which is hinted at throughout the novel, but the main focus is the quest for Maryanne, more than the history of the land and colonisation. Through this quest, Gabriel shows how little those who are new to this country understand the land, but also, their desire to tame it for their own will. It shows how colonisation affected the land – and a world shown through the eyes of those with power – and what this means for those forgotten or ignored.

AWW2020It is a quest with a clear goal, yet an ending that might lead into another story, as it was so open to interpretation, anything could have happened, but I think I know what the author was aiming for – to find out you’ll have to read it for yourself though. It is a book about freedom in some ways and being a prisoner or tied to something awful in other ways, as shown through Gabriel’s eyes, story and experience. It is another way of exploring Australia’s history in a micro sense – taking one experience and telling that story to expand on what we already know, or to add to the myriad of voices out there. This is just one example of how the known story is not the only one out there. There are many others that can be told from a variety of diverse perspectives, and to be able to read them alongside this story and other stories would help give a well-rounded view of Australian history.

K.M. Kruimink has crafted a story that is compelling and intriguing, and that explores the unknown world of Van Diemen’s land, as well as the interior world and mind of her main character, Gabriel. The isolation he feels physically mirrors the isolation and at times, desolation he feels emotionally and mentally as his mind and body battle an unknown world and situation. It is an interesting novel – one that needs to have time spent with it to unravel everything in the novel, and work out where everyone fits and especially, some parts of the final chapters. Not everything is made obvious, but this is what makes it work within the scope and purposes of the novel. It is at times gentle and at times wild, but when combined, these aspects are what makes the novel work for what is and its audience.

It is more literary than historical, though the historical elements are there and help to create the world that Gabriel is in, showing just how the colonists saw Australia and Van Diemen’s land as wild and untamed land as they see it. This was an intriguing novel that will certainly find an interested audience, and sometimes, it is these stories of individuals that give history its colour and richness, in all shapes and forms.

 

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!

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.

Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal by Anna Whateley

Peta LyreTitle: Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal

Author: Anna Whateley

Genre: Fiction, Young Adult

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 28th April 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 248

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: At sixteen, neurodivergent Peta Lyre is the success story of social training. That is, until she finds herself on a school ski trip – and falling in love with the new girl. Peta will need to decide which rules to keep, and which rules to break…

‘I’m Peta Lyre,’ I mumble. Look people in the eye if you can, at least when you greet them. I try, but it’s hard when she is smiling so big, and leaning in.

Peta Lyre is far from typical. The world she lives in isn’t designed for the way her mind works, but when she follows her therapist’s rules for ‘normal’ behaviour, she can almost fit in without attracting attention.

When a new girl, Sam, starts at school, Peta’s carefully structured routines start to crack. But on the school ski trip, with romance blooming and a newfound confidence, she starts to wonder if maybe she can have a normal life after all.

When things fall apart, Peta must decide whether all the old rules still matter. Does she want a life less ordinary, or should she keep her rating normal?

A moving and joyful own voices debut.

~*~

Rules help Peta navigate her life, and the social world around her. She is neurodivergent – ASD, SPD and ADHD – and these rules help her remind herself how to act around people who might not understand her neurodivergence, and the way she is, and how she might fit into society. Her friend Jeb, and Aunt Antonia have helped her with these rules and working out how to do things, and supporting her for who she is for many years. Ever since her parents gave up and quit, Peta has been living with Aunt Antonia – Ant, as she calls her, attending a local College for years eleven and twelve, and has had some success in keeping her routines and normal ratings steady.

When Sam starts school, and Peta’s careful routines that help her maintain her normal crack as they head on the school ski trip, Peta starts to find new confidence in romance, – can she have a normal life, or will her old rules matter when things fall apart?

AWW2020

This is a touching, evocative and honest own voices debut that can spark a conversation about what is normal. Is normal what society deems normal, or does everyone have their own normal that should be accepted. Or are both right? Can society have an expectation of appropriate behaviours and interactions that we learn through socialisation whilst we are able to maintain our own individual normal and individual routines at the same time? This is perhaps one of the most complicated things to unpack yet also, the simplest. For Peta, what she does is normal – her normal, Jeb’s normal, Ant’s normal. Normal in their lives – like in everyone’s lives – is what they know and experience.

Yet at the same time, there are societal ideations and expectations of what is normal, and all the characters must navigate this. To add another layer, the normal of the College Peta, Jeb and Sam attend is different again – every student is different, has a different normal and I think it is safe to say, nobody seems to fit into what society and others around them demand and expect is ‘normal’ – like Big Kat.

So what is normal? Normal is me, normal is you. Normal is Peta, and normal is the author, Anna Whateley. Normal is what we make of it, and our lives, our routines. We can change and adapt our normal as our confidence grows and as we find our place in the world as this book shows through Peta and her experiences at the snow, and how it helps her uncover and begin to talk about her feelings, what she wants to do, and how to let other people in.

Her character is authentic – and many of her experiences are based on Anna’s, which is what makes this book engaging, fresh and honest. It works on all levels.  I loved the support Peta’s friends and school gave her and I loved how she resolved things – it felt honest and fair, and made the book feel as much about friendship, family and coming of age as it did about the romance – and it was Peta’s rules and structure that helped shape how she approached things and that hopefully, gives readers an insight into what people who had ASD, SPD, ADHD and other neurodivergent conditions go through. This will differ from person to person, but hopefully this will resonate with people as well. The way Peta interacts might not be the same for everyone in her position – yet through this book, maybe readers can learn ways of helping – or how to ask what they can do to help – or just to listen and make an effort to understand.

Seeing how Peta grappled with being honest and blunt and how this wasn’t necessarily socially acceptable was an eye opener, and can open up conversations, I hope. How one person sees and understands the world is not the same as others – and throughout the novel, we see Peta trying to walk the tightrope of how to interact socially and act according to her normal. In a sense, trying to find what some might call a happy medium to please everyone, and herself.

It deals with themes of family, friendship, LGTBQIA relationships, and invisible disabilities in a way not often seen – in a positive way, where for sure, bad things happen but it is resolved and understandings are reached, and a normal way of life is forged for everyone involved. A great read for teens who want to see themselves represented and also for those who wish to understand these issues.

Isolation Publicity with Dr Anna Whateley

 

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.

Peta Lyre

Dr Anna Whateley is a neurodivergent, #OwnVoices author – and it is exciting to hear from her about her debut novel, Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal, which was released on the 28th of April 2020. Anna put some of herself into Peta, and I think this will make for interesting and authentic reading. Like many authors during the next few months, Anna is missing out on the release, launch and events related to her debut novel. Since starting this series, several events and launches have moved online, which is great – but this series is still vital I think – to showcase as many authors as possible affected by the pandemic in a variety of ways and in at various stages in their careers.

Hi Anna, and welcome to The Book Muse!

1. Your first novel, Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal is released this year – can you tell the readers a little bit about Peta, and where she came from?

Peta Lyre is 16, and from an area just south of Brisbane called the Redlands. She is doing year 11 at a TAFE college, and lives with her Aunt Antonia. Peta is autistic and gifted, and she has ADHD and sensory processing disorder, so life can be a bit intense! She has been following all the social rules perfectly, masking and ‘passing’ as normal for years. Her best friend is Jeb, a funny and sensitive guy stuck in a mechanics course when he wants to branch out. When Samanta arrives at college, Peta falls in love. They go to Perisher Valley for a ski trip and everything becomes more difficult. She is left with conflicting rules, an avalanche of emotions, and her worst fears are realised.

Peta’s voice was natural for me, a certain way of thinking I share, but her story is her own. She’s more sensible than me, and probably smarter!

2. You’re the second author I’ve interviewed represented by Danielle Binks, who was the first Isolation Publicity interview – how did you meet Danielle, and how long have you been working with her on the novel?

I met Danielle at the CYA conference in 2018, where I pitched Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal. I was pretty nervous, but she was supportive and yet straight to the point (I like that!). After she signed me up we had some young interns read Peta’s story, and they loved it. We didn’t really do any edits before sending it out to publishers in early 2019.

3. I understand that Peta Lyre is your first novel – what events and launches were planned for this novel prior to the pandemic shutting everything down?

Before the pandemic I was contracted to the Sydney Writer’s Festival, and a few other events that still haven’t been announced (or they haven’t decided what to do yet). I absolutely love festivals, so I’m a bit crushed. Apart from those, I’d planned to have a launch and a few bookstore events – they’ve mostly moved online, so that’s great!

4. Without giving too many spoilers away, is there anything about Peta and her story that was inspired by yourself, or anyone you know?

I share her diagnoses, and she takes the same medications I do. I also went to a TAFE for years eleven and twelve of high school and went on the ski trip. I’ve drawn on those years to create Peta’s world, but not directly, and nothing in her family life is like mine was really. We did struggle for money in those years, and I really wanted to show what low SES living can be like. Not in a dramatic way, just in a mundane sort of day to day life way – like not going to the movies or having sponsored ski trip thanks to the government and package deals with local private schools. Being the charity kids, as it were. We still enjoyed it, but there’s always a moment when you realise that other people live and experience life differently. Apart from that, I drew on key moments – emotional punches – from my teenage years. Like the moment you realise someone has judged you for kissing a girl, or when you realise you’ve hurt someone you love. The situations are different, but the core emotion is shared.

5. Since the pandemic started to shut things down, you’ve started an #AusChat video series – what inspired this, and how many people in the book industry in Australia have you spoken to so far?

Ha, this was a strange thing! I was swept up in a moment of loneliness and sadness that I wouldn’t be seeing my writer community. I can easily slip into isolation anyway, and forget that I need other people, and when it looked like everything was shutting down, it became overwhelming. So, I guess my ADHD-self took over and decided to chat to people I know from Twitter using zoom, and just see how they’re going. Then I thought I’d record it and pop it up on my YouTube channel. Kay Kerr helped me figure out a few parameters and was always going to be my first chat. We’ve shared a lot of our publishing journey together and had previously thought we would do some online conversations. I’ve recorded thirty chats now and have more booked in! I’m stunned people have responded so well, and I’ll keep going so long as the need is there.

6. You’ve got a PhD in young adult literature – where did you study this, and in particular, what aspect of young adult literature did you focus on?

I do, but not in creative writing of YA! I analysed young adult fiction with a theoretical framework. It’s an academic way of understanding where our society and culture sit on a particular issue. For me, it was understanding how people continue on after they realise they’re going to die. That sounds simple, but there’s a moment where you understand what death really means, and that it’s always present in our lives (perhaps even more so at the moment). These revelatory moments are key to YA texts, and I specifically looked at the role characters who didn’t fit the binary codes of society played in each narrative. I could go on forever! Basically, I found that young adult fiction does an amazing job of processing and incorporating death in a productive and transformative way. More than that, characters who don’t fit simple binaries are crucial to survival. Perfect.

7. Did you study children’s literature prior to the PhD, and what did the course focus on? What aspects of a children’s literature course do you think are important?

I came from doing a teaching certificate in the UK, and before that I completed a BA with Honours in English Literature. Not children’s literature at all! I studied all the classics, from William Shakespeare to Toni Morrison. I loved every moment, though I’d say my favourites were the Romantic period, and postmodern literature. My honours looked at environmental discourses over the last two hundred years, winding in feminist, post-structural and postcolonial theories. I have taught children’s and YA literature to pre-service teachers more recently, where I think it’s really important to keep the texts current, while leaning on historical writing. We need to show a genuine respect for the books we study, whether they are adult, YA, picture books, graphic novels, or poetry. Popular or unpopular, they all show us something about the culture that produced them.

8. How important are #OwnVoices stories to you, and what do you think they bring to the book world?

Own voices writing is incredibly important to me, and I’m lucky to have come along at the upsurge of a movement that amplifies my own voice. We’ve had post-colonial theories for a long time, questioning the writing of Othered/marginalised people by those in more powerful positions (Western, usually male, white writers). Own voices is expanding these ideas and drawing attention to how problematic it is to have disabled, queer, or otherwise marginalised people written, rather than writing. The caveat is always that some writers may not want to expose their own position, or identify a text as own voices, so it’s good to remember that before criticising any text for not being own voices. I think our books bring a sense of authenticity, and it’s changing the publishing industry for the better.

9. #OwnVoices has been around for a few years now. What are some of your favourite #OwnVoices stories, and why these in particular?

I really like Erin Gough’s writing, her short stories and novella in particular, but obviously her YA, Amelia Westlake, too! To all the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han is wonderful, and Invisible Boys by Holden Sheppard also had a big impact. I’m really looking forward to Kay Kerr’s Please Don’t Hug Me, as an autistic own voices YA novel. I like these ones because they have a voice I identify with, or that I don’t – and then I can learn and expand my own world understanding by reading them. [Just a note, these authors may not all identify these novels as own voices!]

10. During these difficult times of isolation, what authors or books do you find yourself turning to?

I’m reading a strange pile right now, mostly inspired by #AusChat! Mirandi Riwoe’s Stone Sky Gold Mountain, is taking my breath away. I’m expecting my copy of Deep Water by Sarah Epstein to arrive any day now, and I can’t wait. My reading has changed a lot over the years, perhaps as a teenager I would have turned to a long fantasy series, with a contemporary novel or two on the side.

11. There are several new releases over the next few months that have either been delayed or rescheduled due to the virus or are coming out without any launches or events attached to them. Which ones are you the most excited to read when you will be able to get them?

Ah! Luckily, I’m involved with OzAuthorsOnline, where we are doing YA launches for people who have had their events cancelled. Soon, I will have Sarah Epstein’s Deep Water, Katya de Beccera’s Oasis, and Danielle Bink’s The Year The Maps Changed, of course!

12. Favourite author, series or book that you always go back to?

Oh, once up on a time I’d have said Twilight, but the long-time favourite is Anne McCaffrey. For contemporary writing, I’d say Judy Blume.

13. What writing method works for you – handwriting, typing or a combination?

Typing! I scribble things, but my hands lack strength and I type much faster.

14. What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?

I have SO many hobbies. They include reading, jigsaws, felting, sewing (badly), camping, mushroom photography and Minecraft!

15. Do you have any writing buddies, like a cat or a dog?

I have two dogs, Teddy and Buddy, and two rescue guinea pigs called Autumn and Winter. They all keep me company! Teddy barks a lot, but he’s very sweet.

16. How do you think the arts community will help people through this tough time, and how do you hope it will come out at the other end?

The arts give us escape, entertainment, a reason to go on, and a way to process what’s happened. These things are equally important.

Thank you Anna!