The Schoolmaster’s Daughter by Jackie French

schoolmaster's daughterTitle: The Schoolmaster’s Daughter
Author: Jackie French
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: HarperCollins Australia
Published: 18th May 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 384
Price: $17.99
Synopsis: Drawing on her own family history, this is a story from Jackie French about education in Colonial Australia – and how women once had to fight for their right to it.
January 1901
Sharks circle a stranded ship as a young girl and her family stagger from the waves …
Rescued by a Pacific Islander boy named Jamie, Hannah’s family begin a new life in Port Harris, which at first seems a paradise for the schoolmaster’s daughter. But local fortunes are built on slavery and the whip.
As the new Federal Parliament passes the law that will force Pacific Islanders from their homes, Hannah and her mother risk everything to run a secret school, while Hannah and Jamie must fight for their rights to education and equality. Can friendship and love win against prejudice and power?
Inspired by real events, this powerful new novel brings to life the bravery and battles of the past and gives us courage for the challenges of today.

~*~

As Australia becomes a nation, Hannah Ferndale and her family move to northern NSW town, Port Harris, where sugar cane farms are run using labour from Pacific Islanders, who are kept in slavery-like conditions. Hannah and her family are shipwrecked as they arrive at Port Harris, and are rescued Jamie, a young Pacific Islander boy, before they begin their new life, with Papa as the new schoolmaster.

Hannah longs to learn more than what she has been taught – and is ready for the next stage of her schooling. Yet as she attends school, she discovers that she is only there to help him teach the Infants kids to read and count, and write, and assist with her mother’s role in teaching music and sewing. When her mother starts teaching Hannah and Jamie secretly after he’s denied a place at the school, Hannah starts to learn more about the world than what she has experienced, as Jamie and his mother tell Hannah and her mother about their lives and the lives of the Islanders on the plantations. Their secret school is interrupted by a family emergency, and Hannah and Jamie try to continue, but she soon must return to her life teaching small children with no hope of moving forward beyond marriage.

As new laws are debated, and as Hannah has to attend to her duties as a good girl and live in a world she longs to change for the good for everyone. The country has been federated, and new laws about women’s suffrage and the status of Pacific Islanders on the farms up north. The Schoolmaster’s Daughter is based on Jackie’s own family history, which she explains in her author’s notes at the back. This makes the story so powerful – it is from the heart, and from a family, whose history and people have inspired many stories, and many novels, all of which are compelling in so many ways, and have a genuine, unique, and authentic voice that sings and shines through the words, characters and narrative.

AWW2020It is an ode to a new country, grappling with their identity and their people in 1901, themes that are still relevant today in 2020, as some issues still need to be resolved – such as racism. At the same time, it is a celebration of reading, words, education and poetry – something that unites Jamie and Hannah in Eliza’s absence, and they connect them in a way that society cannot understand or fathom. The words that they shared created a world beyond what they knew and showed how they each saw exploring the world – for Jamie, it was the ability to physically explore. Hannah was happy to explore via the page – both are valid – exploring the world and travelling the world can be done in both ways. During these times of the pandemic, most of us are travelling across the world, through time and into other worlds via the page. Reading in Hannah and Jamie’s world opens this door, and the door to better lives, to lives they long for and have so far only dreamed about.

I read this book in about two days – it was one where I just had to find out what was going to happen next, and how Hannah was going to achieve her goals. Jackie French books always teach me something new, and this book was no exception. It presented a world that we may not be familiar with and issues that feel distant but are not. It is a fantastic piece of historical fiction that I will

Isolation Publicity with Aleesah Darlison

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

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

Aleesah Darlison is the author of League of Llamas – a series of four books aimed at younger readers that  has come out this year during the months of the pandemic. She’s had to cancel launches and all kinds of author appearances in the wake of the pandemic. She appears here to discuss her series, llamas and animals in writing.

League of Llamas: Undercover Llama

League of Llamas: Rogue Llama

LOL with 4 covers black

Hi Aleesah and welcome to the Book Muse! (thanks for having me!)

Aleesah llama books_March 2020
Aleesah and her first two books
  1. Like many of my participants, you write for children – what attracted you to writing for children more than adults, and which age group do you primarily write for?

I didn’t consciously start out writing for children. I think I eventually gravitated to the genre because I had young children of my own, and because my inner child needed to express herself! One day when I grow up, I might spread my wings and write for adults too. My favourite age groups to write for are 3 – 5 year olds with picture books then 6 – 12 year olds with chapter books and junior fiction.

  1. Where did the idea for League of Llamas come from, and was it a conscious decision to only write four books?

Several of my kids and their friends were obsessed with llamas and we started talking about them one day, bouncing ideas off each other until we came up with the concept of llama secret agents. Once I had that initial seed, I worked with it, developing characters and plots designed to make kids laugh out loud – it’s all about engagement factor, after all! League of Llamas, or LOL, for short works in with that idea. I did consciously develop ideas for four books and that’s what I pitched to my publisher, Penguin Random House. Four is my favourite number and it’s neat and tidy! I have plenty of other ideas for additional stories, so we can always add more.

 

  1. Llamas as secret agents sounds like it would be a lot of fun to read and write – what is it about llamas that you think is so funny?

Writing about llamas doing secret agent business and other silly things was so much fun! I often gave myself (and my editor) a giggle with the stories. I just loved working on these books. My llamas are stand-out characters – they have strong personalities and do naughty things. They’re giddy at times, they have great camaraderie, they have some admirable qualities but also they have many, many faults.

The llama main characters (Phillipe, Lloyd, and Elloise) are all convinced of their own positive attributes, but they’re not so good at recognising their faults, their foibles, and their idiosyncrasies. Being completely oblivious means they have no inhibitions and no boundaries. They don’t hold back so they can be entirely themselves, which tends to create rather hilarious moments.

  1. Following on from that – are llamas effective secret agents, and could our spy agencies utilise them as well as humans?

Absolutely! My llamas can create the best disguises (Phillipe goes undercover as a giraffe), Lloyd is unwavering in his loyalty to his fellow secret agents (he’s as cool as a cucumber under pressure – although he is ruled by his stomach and LOVES donuts), and Elloise is a force to be reckoned with (you have to watch her side-kicks and karate chops). Singularly, they may be vulnerable, but as a team they’re unstoppable!

  1. You’ve written over 50 books for children and young adults – what are the most common themes and characteristics you find appearing in each book?

There’s usually an animal or two or three (or more!) in my stories. My favourite things as a child were books and animals, so I guess it’s natural that I write about animals now that I’m grown up, well, sort of … I get to combine my two great loves and have fun doing it. This all means that I’m well-known for my stories that feature animals and the environment, as well as child self-empowerment, unicorns … and llamas, of course!

  1. Which animals are the most fun to turn into a character of some kind, and why?

All of them! There are so many adorable animals out there just waiting to be written about. As authors, we have an endless supply of potential characters in our animal friends.

  1. Animals are a common aspect in books for children – for both fiction and non-fiction. As a kid’s author and parent, what do you think draws children into books about and featuring animal characters?

Many animal species are familiar to children, so they have a sense of comfort and connection with them from the moment they open a book. Some are super cute and disarming too, a fact that’s helped along by how talented illustrators depict their subjects. I challenge anyone to resist a baby panda or koala or llama? It’s impossible!

IMG_8216
Aleesah reading to a llama

 

  1. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic did you have any launches, events, and appearances planned that had to be cancelled, and what were they for?

Oh, yes! Before the release of my League of Llamas Series, I’d been working for months to create numerous events and activities. The series was even featuring at a festival launch where we were going to have real live llamas for people to meet. I had bookings for to present League of Llamas workshops and talks at multiple festivals, schools, and libraries across Australia. Basically, I had five months’ worth of events and tours that had to be rescheduled. There was so much work put into setting up these events, then there was more work involved in rescheduling, and now there will be more work again in re-confirming and running those events once we defeat COVID. It’s been a challenge to say the least.

  1. What is, or are, your favourite things about school visits, and why these in particular?

It’s always the kids. They’re amazing and so full of fun and joy. They’re always eager, friendly, and welcoming.  Seriously, it’s one of the perks of the job to be able to work with kids.

  1. Do your kids inspire any of your stories and characters, and in what way?

All the time. Either with silly, funny, or clever things that they do or say and which I then translate some way into a book. Otherwise, it might be with ideas and information about things that they like that could form the basis of a story or character. Kids think in the most imaginative ways and come up can often come up with things that you just wouldn’t think of as an adult.

 

  1. You write series and stand-alone books – what are the challenges for each one, and which do you find the easiest to write, or at least, to get started on?

Each book has its own challenges. Sometimes a stand-alone story will simply flow onto the page, sometimes you have to push. With a series you need unique stories with the same characters so it can be tricky to maintain stamina over the long haul. Series are a lot of work because you’re often writing and editing multiple instalments at once and to multiple tight deadlines. Plus, you have to keep track of everything to ensure you’re not repeating yourself. Planning is paramount, so I’d suggest that if you really don’t like planning your stories that you don’t tackle a series.

  1. How far have you gone to research something for one of your books, and what has been the most interesting thing you’ve uncovered so far?

When I was first starting out, I was really into historical novels and went a long way towards writing two manuscripts (one biographical, one fiction). These manuscripts are yet to see the light of day as I still haven’t gotten them quite right. I’d go to the NSW State Library almost every day or night researching on microfiche and old  newspapers, digging up court documents and purchasing birth certificates and war records from the archives (which I still have). Historical novels are a huge amount of work! It was fascinating reading the court transcripts to a case that involved one of the real-life people I was writing about. Those transcripts showed so much of the reality of the world these people lived in and their personalities and back stories. It wasn’t just about the court case – it was their own relationships and personal interactions, the social mores of the time, and the prejudices people actually held and honestly believed they had a right to feel.

 

  1. You love llamas – would you enjoy having one as a writing companion, or would something like a cat or a dog be easier?

I’ve seen that people use llamas as yoga companions … so maybe they would work as a writing companion too. I’ve visited a lot of llama farms, so I have been up close and personal with them. If I had one of my own, I’m sure they’d make for great writing inspiration … but they would be tricky fitting in a house. So, I guess I’d have to go with a dog. I’ve had dogs as pets for years and they’ve always stuck by me with my writing. My current dog, Lexie, has a bed under my desk and she spends most days there if I’m writing.

 

  1. With each picture book, you seem to have worked with a different illustrator – how has that process worked with each book and illustrator?

Publishers choose the illustrator for a project and each story has a different feel or essence so requires a different style of illustration. Sometimes, I can suggest illustrators, but usually the publisher has a firm idea or preference for who they would like to work with on a project. Sometimes, I’ve known and met the illustrator. Sometimes, I’ve never met them or spoken to them. Illustrator choice often isn’t up to the author, it’s up to the publisher so authors tend to run with it. So far, it’s always worked out well for me!

  1. You also have two series for younger readers – Little Witch and Unicorn Riders – are there more books planned for these series?

No, those series are a little older now. Unicorn Riders was my second series (after Totally Twins) so came out about ten years ago. There are eight books in that series so while I thought I’d explored the unicorn stories in quite a bit of depth, I would have loved to create a companion series called Griffin Riders and based in one of the neighbouring kingdoms. Maybe one day I’ll get back to that idea!

 

  1. Are there any new series or stand-alone books planned for the future, or is there anything in the works right now?

I have ideas for other series that I’m currently developing, but – most exciting – is that my publisher, Penguin Random House, recently accepted a new picture book series from me so that will keep me busy for the next few years. We’ve currently got four books planned for that series, so I need to get cracking with the writing!

  1. I ask a question like this to as many people as possible – how do you think the arts will be impacted due to the pandemic, and what can people do to help?

From what I’ve seen and heard, many creatives have lost presentation work, which really supports us more than book royalties. On top of that, they’ve lost launch opportunities and book sales because book stores have had to close or don’t have any foot traffic due to self-isolation and lockdown restrictions. Then you have the potential for publishing contracts and new releases to be stalled or cancelled altogether. I haven’t heard much on that front yet, but it may happen.

The other impact is that, although many people have found themselves at home more and you’d think this means more writing time, the worry and stress of the virus or of losing income has depleted any ability to focus on creativity. Many authors like myself also have children who need to be home schooled, so we’re busier than ever before, but not with our writing.

There have been many negative impacts of COVID on the writing industry, as there have been for many industries. I think the main thing to focus on is that the restrictions and ‘hibernation’ won’t last forever and that if we can stay healthy and well, then we can pick ourselves up and carry on. Hopefully soon. And hopefully without losing too many talented creatives to the virus.

Social media and Zoom have been lifesavers in keeping us connected and supporting one another. The Australian children’s writing industry is a tight-knit group, so those connections are helping many us hang in there.

  1. Do you have a favourite local bookseller, and why this one in particular?

I’ve been supported by many booksellers over my career, so they’re all absolutely wonderful, they’re the life-blood of our industry. They work so hard! If I could name a few Sunshine Coast local ones it would be QBD Kawana, Harry Hartog Maroochydore, Annie’s Books on Peregian, Pages & Pages Noosa, and The Little Book Nook in Palmwoods.

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

 

I have a penchant for detective and crime stories and also Stephen King! I do tend to read a lot of children’s books too and I’m a sucker for a clever picture book.

  1. Finally, will there be more League of Llamas books for younger readers to enjoy?

Absolutely! Books 3 and 4 come out on 3 July. If kids and parents want to grab copies, they can order via www.penguin.com.au or they can visit QBD, Harry Hartog, and other booksellers OR purchase online at Amazon or Booktopia. Go the llamas!

Anything I may have missed?

Thanks Aleesah!

That’s it, thanks so much Ashleigh!

 

Evie and Pog: Party Perfect by Tania McCartney

Evie and Pog Party PerfectTitle: Evie and Pog: Party Perfect
Author: Tania McCartney
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: HarperCollins Australia
Published: 20th April 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 144
Price: $12.99
Synopsis:
In the bestselling tradition of Ella and Olivia, comes a further book in a new series for early readers about best friends, Evie and Pog.
High in a tree house live two very best friends. Evie and Pog. A girl and a dog.
Evie is six years old. She likes reading and baking and rolling on the daisy-spot grass.
Pog is a pug. He is two and likes to drink tea and read the newspaper. He also likes fixing things.
But most of all, Evie and Pog love to have fun – especially at parties! Join them for three further adventures – Book Parade, Art Show Muddle and Party Time!

~*~

Each Evie and Pog story begins with the same six lines with some rhyming, that introduces us to Evie and Pog, the pug. It then launches into the story – the book parade, where Evie and Granny work hard to create a celebrations costume – but they have to keep it a secret from Pog! In Art Show Muddle, Evie and her friend, Noah, are painting a picture when a litter of kittens wreaks havoc, and in Parry Time, Evie feels like her plans for her grandmother’s birthday are going to be overshadowed by what everyone else wants a party for.

The stories are filled with fun and love, and memorable characters: Mr Arty-Farty, Miss Footlights, Noah, Granny, and of course, Evie and Pog, all of whom come together to create a wonderful community and series of stories for readers aged six and older, who have enjoyed and do enjoy the Ella and Olivia books by Yvette Poshoglian.

AWW2020Like Ella and Olivia, Evie and Pog is aimed at the stage of readership that is just starting to read alone, but who still like to be read to or read with someone. The three short novels in each book are interlinked – through the characters and references to what has come in the previous story. This made it delightful to read, and ensured that readers will remain engaged with both the words and the illustrations created by Tania McCartney, which work together to tell the stories within this new Evie and Pog book.

This was my first adventure with Evie and Pog, after hearing about it on various podcasts and in my reading groups. I found it very easy to slip into this world, and it was filled with fun and art, books and humour – Evie is a fabulous character who brings words and crafting together in a fun and delightful way for readers to engage with Evie and the stories, and see a variety of interests celebrated – knitting and reading are celebrated a lot in the stories, showing how fun and awesome these hobbies are.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to readers aged six and older looking to expand their vocabulary as they learn to read.

Beyond Belief by Dee White

beyond-beliefTitle: Beyond Belief
Author: Dee White
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Scholastic Australia
Published: 1st April 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 264
Price: $17.99
Synopsis: Inspired by the true story of Muslims who saved the lives of Jewish children in the Second World War.

In 1942, in the Grand Mosque in Paris, 11-year-old Ruben is hiding from the Nazis. Already thousands of Jewish children have disappeared, and Ruben’s parents are desperately trying to find his sister. Ruben must learn how to pass himself off as a Muslim, while he waits for the infamous Fox to help him get to Spain to be reunited with his family. One hint of Rubens true identity and he will be killed. So will the people trying to save him.

But when the mosque is raided and the Fox doesn’t come, Ruben is forced to flee. Finding himself in the south of France, he discovers that he must adjust to a new reality, and to the startling revelation of the Fox’s true identity.

~*~

Most Holocaust stories revolve around the camps, or the Jewish ghettoes and areas of Europe invaded by the Nazis. Whilst some stories tell of people who flouted Nazi rules to hide Jews, there are other stories not told. Dee White has sensitively and evocatively told one of these stories in Beyond Belief with careful research, and interaction with Holocaust survivors, Muslims who knew the history explored in the novel, and sensitivity readers.

In 1942, the Grand Mosque in Paris is more than just a mosque – it is a safe haven for Jewish children, hidden from the Nazis as they wait to be reunited with their families, saved from the horrors of the camps – known people at the time, but the true horrors and events were not something they knew about, at least Ruben, Daan, Amra and the other characters. They know they are separated from their families and do not know when they will be reunited.

It is both hopeful and filled with the harsh realities of the war and the Holocaust. Paris is held by the Nazis, who make their presence known, storming into the mosque and searching for Jewish children. The Imam protected them, up until the mosque is raided and Hana, Momo, her brother, and Ruben make a dash for their lives with Evette and Fida, and run into people they never thought they’d see again and set out on a journey that will reveal who the Fox is…and unite them as family.

AWW2020Learning these stories enriches our understanding of the history we know, and the history we do not know. Until I read this book, I knew nothing of the role mosques and Muslims, in particular the Grand Mosque in Paris had in hiding and helping Jewish children survive the Holocaust. It is an important story, as it shows the humanity in the world, and teaches us that whilst Judaism, Christianity and Islam are separate religions – yet they worship the same God, and this is what Ruben learns in the mosque – that humanity and the kindness of people will get him through, and to trust those around him – to trust Evette and Fida.

I came to love all these characters and initially, I thought I would savour this book, yet I inhaled it in two or three sittings – it was one that was compelling, where I needed to know what happened next, who survived, how they escaped and so many other threads and events that take place in the latter half of the novel that are crucial to what happens. I loved Amra and Hana, they were wonderful, in the face of great tragedy, faced everything that came towards them bravely with Ruben.

This is an important book – we need to know this history and this book has the header ‘Heroes of the Holocaust’ – I hope this is going to become a series because I think it would make a really good one, especially if it explores lots more lesser known stories and histories of this time period.

June 2020 Wrap Up

 

The Modern Mrs Darcy 11/12

AWW2020 – 67/25

Book Bingo – 12/12

The Nerd Daily Challenge 45/52

Dymocks Reading Challenge 23/25

Books and Bites Bingo 15/25

STFU Reading Challenge: 9/12

General Goal –110/165

 

In June, I managed to read eighteen books in total, fourteen by Australian authors, and all but one of those were Australian women authors. Fifteen of the eighteen were by women authors from Australia and the United Kingdom, and my reading crossed all kinds of genres and audiences this month as I work towards my yearly reading goals.

Towards the end of the month, I participated in an Emma versus Pride and Prejudice read-along with some blogger friends – it seemed several of us went with Emma- perhaps because we had not read it yet and had already read Pride and Prejudice – and two of us found we could use it for a classics book bingo square.

I’m moving slowly through my stacks of books to read, and will hopefully be on top of all of them soon.

June – 18

Book Author Challenge
Elementals: Battle Born Amie Kaufman Reading Challenge, AWW2020, Dymocks Reading Challenge
Lilies, Lies and Love Jackie French Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Kid Normal and the Final Five Greg James and Chris Smith Reading Challenge
Toffle Towers: Fully Booked Tim Harris and James Foley Reading Challenge
Monty’s Island: Scary Mary and the Stripey Spell Emily Rodda and Lucinda Gifford Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Wonderscape Jennifer Bell Reading Challenge
When Rain Turns to Snow Jane Godwin Reading Challenge, AWW2020
League of Llamas: Undercover Llama Aleesah Darlison Reading Challenge, AWW2020
League of Llamas: Rogue Llama Aleesah Darlison Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Kensy and Max: Freefall Jacqueline Harvey Reading Challenge, AWW2020
The Silk House 

 

Kayte Nunn Reading Challenge, AWW2020
The Mummy Smugglers of Crumblin Castle

 

Pamela Rushby and Nellé May Pierce Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Roxy and Jones: The Great Fairy Tale Cover Up Angela Woolfe Reading Challenge
Alexandra-Rose and Her Icy Cold Toes by

 

Monique Mulligan and Kate Fox (Illustrator) Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Meet Mia by the Jetty Janeen Brian and Danny Snell Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Meet Sam at the Mangrove Creek Paul Seden and Brenton McKenna Reading Challenge, STFU Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge
Death by Shakespeare: Snakebites, Stabbings and Broken Hearts  Kathryn Harkup Reading Challenge
Edie’s Experiments: How to Be the Best Charlotte Barkla Reading Challenge, AWW2020

 

 

 

 

 

Isolation Publicity with Allison (A.L.) Tait

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

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

One of my participants is Allison Tait, or A.L. Tait – author of The Mapmaker Chronicles, The Ateban Cipher and the soon-to-be-released (in September) – The Fire Star. Allison has studied freelance writing and has written on pretty much any topic you could think of, which must have been very interesting. Like many authors, Allison has had lots of festival appearances and events cancelled due to the pandemic, as well as school visits. Below, she talks about her books, the Australian Writer’s Centre and her freelance career, and of course, Procrasti-pup makes an appearance too!

Hi Allison, and welcome to The Book Muse

Thanks so much for having me Ashleigh! It’s lovely to have an opportunity to connect.

  1. When did you decide you wanted to write professionally, and was there a specific course you did at university?

It’s a long story because when I was growing up, I didn’t have a sense that being a professional writer was a viable career path. I was in regional NSW, before the internet, and I thought that authors were magical unicorns who created their work in turrets in England.

I got my break as a writer when I landed a magazine journalism cadetship and I worked in that industry for 15 years before I ever wrote a book. My first book was non-fiction and was about how to pay off your credit cards…

 

  1. You started your career as a journalist – was this as a freelancer, or a regular journalist and where did you get your start?

I began as a cadet journalist with Federal Publishing Company when I was 19. I learnt every aspect of magazine publishing, from sub-editing and production, to writing features. It was very valuable training for all aspects of my career.

I worked as staff on different publications in Australia and in the UK from that point until I had my first baby, though I had periods where I worked part-time on staff and part-time as a freelancer, because I was transitioning from editing roles into fulltime features writing.

  1. What sort of articles have you written in the past, and do you still write for publications, whilst working on your novels and at the Australian Writer’s Centre?

If you can think of a topic, I have probably written an article about it at some point. I have written about everything from cars, golf, gardens and finances, to home interiors, sex, business and dating. One of the things I have always loved most about being a features writer is the variety of the work. These days, I only write articles when there is something in particular I want to say, and that is becoming less frequent all the time. Most of my words are reserved for other arenas now.

  1. At what point during your journalism career did you decide to write novels, and which age group did you start with?

I started writing novels when I travelled to the UK in my early 20s. I had taken a temporary job as a switchboard operator while I applied for journalism jobs in London, and I was, not to put too fine a point on it, bored out of my mind. So I began writing a romance novel to amuse myself and a friend I was corresponding with at the time.

I picked up a job on Homes & Gardens magazine not long after, but I kept chipping away at the manuscript and then wrote two or three more, before branching out into longer works of contemporary fiction for adults. None of these manuscripts ever got published, but I learnt a lot along the way.

  1. The series I probably know you the best for are the Mapmaker Chronicles and the Ateban Cipher. How do you feel these books have changed your writing career?

The Mapmaker Chronicles changed everything about my writing career. The idea had come to me thanks to two conversations I’d had with my oldest son, then nine years old, but I ignored it for a good six months because a) I’d never written for children and b) I’d never even contemplated writing a series and I knew that a race to map the world was going to take more than one book.

Once I did sit down to write it, with encouragement from my agent at the time, I could not believe how effortless it felt. The first draft of the first book took me six weeks and the published version is not that different from the first draft. It was the most fun I’d had sitting down and I realised I’d found my true writing love.

  1. Each series features male and female characters in fantasy medieval settings whop may not fit into the gender binaries that people expect. What was it about Gabe, Quinn that you think appeals to readers across the spectrum?

There are two things I love most about both of those characters – one is that they are reluctant heroes, and I do love a reluctant hero, and the other is that both of them are clever enough to recognise when they’re not the smartest person in the room.

I think readers recognise the true bravery involved in not wanting to do something – but doing it anyway for the good of other people. Quinn and Gabe are both questioners. They don’t blindly follow orders – not even Gabe who has grown up in a monastery with all the obedience that entails – but they understand duty and the importance of doing the right thing.

  1. The Mapmaker Chronicles is about mapping the world – when you started writing this, was there something specific about the role of maps in our world that sparked this idea?

The idea was sparked by two conversations with my son Joe, which brought about a feeling and a question. One was about how far space goes (and the feeling that accompanies staring out in the black night sky and wondering where the edges are) and one was a question about how the world was mapped.

I’ve always loved antique maps – as much for the fact that they show us what we didn’t know about the world at any given time as for the fact that they show us what we did know.

So I brought together that feeling of not knowing where the edges are and the fact that explorers could only map the world by going.

And then I added in a character who would really much rather stay home.

  1. With The Ateban Cipher, was there something about ciphers, and communication that helped you form this story and idea?

This series was again built about a feeling and a question. I love old books and have travelled to Dublin twice to see The Book Of Kells, a medieval manuscript. Each time, I was struck by how much I wanted to possess the book.

The question came from a tiny article in a newspaper about the Voynich Manuscript, a very famous antique cipher, which has been pored over by scholars for 100+ years. I got to the end of the article with one question in my mind: Why would you write a book that no-one can read?

So I took the feeling and the question and added in a character who has been raised in a monastery, where such books were written and read, but must leave it for the first time every to keep the book, with all its secrets, safe. Once in the outside world, he runs into the most foreign thing that a boy who has always been surrounded by men could encounter: a group of rebel girls.

  1. Are there more books in those series in the works, or are there any new series or books planned?

At present, there are sadly no plans for more books in either of my current series, though I would happily dive back into either of those worlds in a heartbeat!

I do, however, have a brand-new book coming out in September 2020 with Penguin Books! It’s called THE FIRE STAR (A Maven & Reeve Mystery) and is a mystery adventure novel for readers 12+.

This is the blurb:

A maid with a plan.
A squire with a secret.
A missing jewel.
A kingdom in turmoil.

 

Maven and Reeve have three days to solve the mystery of the Fire Star. If they don’t, they’ll lose everything.

 

This could be a complete disaster . . . or the beginning of a great friendship.

Preorders available at your favourite online bookseller!

  1. Has the COVID-19 Pandemic impacted any releases or events you may have been attending, and what were they?

So many things. I was booked to appear at several literary festivals this year, all of which have been cancelled. I am also the program director of the Shoalhaven Readers’ & Writers’ Festival, now in its third year, but we have had to cancel the 2020 program.

And, then, of course, there are the school visits that are no longer happening, as well as the fact that Valerie Khoo and I were scheduled for a So You Want To Be A Writer event at VIVID Sydney again this year.

On top of this, CBCA Book Week, which is a massive event for children’s authors has been shifted from August to October, which is going to make things much more difficult for me, both as a writer and as a parent. Term 4 is very, very busy in Australia, as any parent will tell you, and trying to factor in a week or two of Book Week author visits around that is not going to be easy.

  1. When did you start working at the Australian Writer’s Centre, and what courses do you run there?

Hmmm. Now that’s a good question. I have been working as an AWC presenter for seven or eight years, I think. I started out tutoring the online Freelance Writing course, and have since moved across to the Creative Writing 1 and Writing For Children and Young Adults online courses. I’ve also developed three online self-paced courses: Build Your Author Platform, Make Time To Write and the 30-Day Creative Writing Bootcamp.

Two years ago, I created the Kids Creative Writing Quest, which is a 12-module self-paced creative writing course for kids aged 9-14.

 

  1. Of these courses, which do you enjoy preparing for the most?

I enjoy all the courses I do with the Australian Writers’ Centre. The courses all aim to be practical, industry-based and incredibly useful. The feedback I get suggests that students get a LOT out of their courses, which is very motivating for me as a presenter.

  1. Do you have any favourite booksellers, and who are your local ones?

I think booksellers are amazing and they are all my favourites. My local booksellers are Dymocks Nowra and Dean Swift Books and they do a brilliant job of keeping books and reading alive in our regional area.

  1. With the arts in trouble, and living through a time when people are going to be relying on the arts to fill their time, what do you hope comes from this crisis in terms for support for the arts and authors in Australia?

To be honest, I hope that people understand the importance of the arts to their lives, and how dull life would be without the books, the music, the theatre, the television and everything else.

  1. Procasti-pup makes many appearances on your social media. Does he help the writing process?

He is without doubt the best thing to ever happen to my Instagram account! On the practical side, he accompanies me on a long walk every morning. Walking is, for me, a very important part of my creative process, and it’s lovely to have such accommodating company as I wrestle with my stories in my head.

  1. Do you have a favourite author, or suggestions for pandemic reading?

I’ve just read ‘The Dictionary Of Lost Words’ by Pip Williams and very much enjoyed the journey to the absorbing world of words.

  1. Finally, what are you doing to pass the time over the next few months?

I am reading, writing, and arguing with my children over screen time (much like every other parent in Australia). Seriously, though, I’m working on a new manuscript, teaching, podcasting and doing the myriad things that always fill my days, such as managing my Facebook groups (Your Kid’s Next Read, Your Own Next Read, So You Want To Be A Writer), social media, updating my blog and generally keeping things ticking over. I’m busy!

Anything further?

Thank you Allison!

 

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.

~*~

AWW2020

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.

 

Edie’s Experiments #2: How to Be the Best by Charlotte Barkla

Edies Experiments 2Title: Edie’s Experiments #2: How to Be the Best
Author: Charlotte Barkla
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Puffin
Published: 2nd July 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 240
Price: $14.99
Synopsis: Edie’s experiments in how to win at life continue . . . but how will she cope with a new rival?
I’m Edie and I’m obsessed with science.
So I was sure that Annie B and I would win the Eco Fair competition.
Then Dean Starlight arrived and started sabotaging our project.
Now the competition has become an epic science battle of robotic spider attacks, exploding foam and sneaky spying.
Dean thinks he’s the best scientist of Class 5Z, but we’ll show him …
~*~

Edie is settling into school at Cedar Road Primary in 5Z, with her friend Annie B, whilst still competing with Emily James, who feels the need to win everything and is very over the top when she does. Just as Mr Zhu, their teacher has announced a science competition for years five and six, former student, Dean Starlight arrives from a stint at a school dedicated to science, and begins to enthral the class, as well as sabotaging Edie and Annie’s project – but his reasons why are a lot more complex than anyone knows. As the pranks and experiments get bigger and more competitive, Edie will find out why Dean is under pressure – and hopefully, they can beat Emily James!

Friendship is front and centre again in this book, as is science, and environmentalism – we get more insight into Edie and her family, her friends and the other things they enjoy, and the challenges that they face throughout their lives and at school. Dealing with a new student that everyone else knows and who seems too perfect is threaded throughout the narrative – Dean comes across as annoying but there is more to his story – and it is fun and interesting unfolding this with Edie, as tings become clearer and clearer throughout the novel in the lead up to the science fair.

AWW2020Environmentalism is a strong theme throughout this book, from Edie’s shower experiment to the final projects for the science competition and is a theme that is very on topic at the moment. It is a theme and conversation that is relevant to everyone, whether we are scientists or not, and something that everyone can do something about, even if it’s not as big as Edie’s grand plans. But we can all do something small within our abilities and what is available to us.

Again, this book has something for everyone – about the power of friendship and support from those around us, about how high expectations can fail, and what it means to come together and solve problems as a team, even when that person has been mean to you – finding out what is behind Dean’s behaviour is eye opening for everyone, and he seems to be a pretty cool character by the end. Maybe in future books he will team up with Edie!

The universality of the themes of family, friendship, cooperation and environmentalism ensure that all readers will enjoy this book and series, and the scientific experiments give it an element that makes science look fun for kids and allows kids who like science to engage with the story and the characters. It is a charming addition to this series, and it will be interesting to see where this series goes in the future.

Aussie Kids: Meet Mia at the Jetty by Janeen Brian and Danny Snell

Meet miaTitle: Meet Mia at the Jetty

Author: Janeen Brian and Danny Snell

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 2nd July 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 64

Price: $12.99

Synopsis: Aussie Kids is an exciting new series for emerging readers 6-8 years.

From a NSW Zoo to a Victorian lighthouse, or an outback sheep farm in WA to a beach in QLD, this junior fiction series celebrates stories about children living in unique places in every state and territory in Australia.

8 characters, 8 stories, 8 authors and illustrators from all 8 states and territories!

Come on an adventure with Aussie Kids and meet Mia from South Australia.

Hi! I’m Mia
Jim is coming to stay with us soon.
I want to show him the jetty, beach and island.
But I don’t want my bossy sister Alice to take over.
So I have a plan . . .

~*~

In the other Aussie Kids book being released this month, Mia lives by a jetty in South Australia. She’s excited to have Jim come to stay and can’t wait to show him around her jetty and the world she lives in – but she doesn’t want her big sister, Alice, taking over! So Mia comes up with a genius plan that she hopes will show Jim how clever she is.

Another story that takes place over one day, exploring the coast and its sights as Mia introduces Jim and the reader to her world. Again, this book shows the diversity of Australia and its people, where they live and the kind of things they enjoy doing.

AWW2020Janeen Brian is a wonderful author, and her story here is as engaging and delightful as her other book from this year, Eloise and the Bucket of Stars. This lovely story about friendship, sibling rivalry and discovering the world around you in a new and fascinating way is a beautiful addition to this series.

Much like the other books in the series, Mia’s adventure takes place over a single day, or part of a day, and each story is its own entity but collaboratively, they showcase an Australia that is in some ways familiar and in other ways not so familiar across the board – depending on what the readers and children know. This series will build their reading confidence, vocabulary, and knowledge of diversity and the country they live in.

A lovely story that all readers will enjoy and that will help children build their vocabulary and reading confidence, accompanied by fun and joyful illustrations by Danny Snell.

 

League of Llamas #4: Rogue Llama by Aleesah Darlison

.jpgTitle: League of Llamas: Rogue Llama
Author: Aleesah Darlison
Genre: Humour
Publisher: Puffin Books Australia
Published: 2nd July 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 144
Price: $9.99
Synopsis: High-action, high-adventure and high-humour – the League of Llamas series is perfect for fans of Diary of a Minecraft Zombie and The Bad Guys.
League of Llamas secret agent Phillipe Llamar is on the run! Determined to clear his name after being framed for a crime he didn’t commit, Phillipe dons a disguise and goes on the hunt for the true criminal – one Ratrick Tailbiter. But the more Phillipe investigates, the less the case makes sense and the more things start becoming suspiciously . . . smelly.
From Ratopia to Catagonia, Phillipe’s journey leads him far from home. Will he be able to solve this mystery alone? Hunted by friends and enemies alike, this is Agent 0011’s most daring adventure yet!
~*~

Phillippe, League of Llamas Agent 0011, is on the run. Ratrick Tailbiter has framed him, and now Mama Llama has sent Elloise and Lloyd to get Phillipe back. But Phillippe is determined to prove his innocence – and will take any risk to do so. Phillipe is far from home as he tries to clear his name and restore his reputation in the League of Llamas and ensure the rat who tricked him and those working with Ratrick do not succeed in their evil plans.

What’s a llama to do? When Lloyd turns up, he decides to help Phillipe – and the two orchestrate disguises and a way to stay hidden and remain on the run – as they try to clear Phillipe’s name. But what do the rats and other characters have in store for the llamas?

Returning to the world of the llamas, who are hot on the tail of the badger, General Ignatius Bottomburp, this story is yet another escapade in a world that mirrors ours, but with animals – each country named for a certain animal – Catagonia, Ratopia, Chickenlovakia – and many more. In my interview with Aleesah, she mentioned this was the final League of Llamas book – you can find out more about what she said about it on Friday in her Isolation Publicity interview!

In this thrilling conclusion to the League of Llamas series, Phillipe must rally his friends around him, prove his innocence and capture Ratrick and those who framed him for blowing up a statue. On his journey, Phillipe meets many animals, and takes on many disguises – including a giraffe! The story is fast-paced and filled with humour that readers of all ages can appreciate – and is a book that can be read out loud or silently and still have the same entertaining effect on the reader, regardless of their age. It is accessible and interactive, and this is what makes it a great book for all ages.

AWW2020Confident readers will gobble these books up, perhaps in one sitting, although it is also fun to stretch out – and is suitable for junior readers, middle grade readers and beyond to be entertained, expand their vocabulary and to discover a world of words and fun with the friendly llamas. I loved reading these books – they are something different in the world of Australian children’s literature. They have in-jokes for adults – though I’m not spoiling this, you’ll have to read the books to find them for yourself! And will make kids laugh.

Animals as spies is very effective – llamas, and another author has crime solving pigeons – what next? We’ll have to just wait and see.