Alice-Miranda at School (10th anniversary edition) by Jacqueline Harvey

Alice Miranda 10th anniversaryTitle: Alice-Miranda at School (10th anniversary edition)

Author: Jacqueline Harvey

Genre: Fiction, School Stories

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 4th February 2020

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 288

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A gorgeous hardback edition of Alice-Miranda at School to celebrate ten years since the pint-sized heroine bounced into our lives.

From bestselling author Jacqueline Harvey comes this new edition of Alice-Miranda at School.

Can one tiny girl change a very big school? Alice-Miranda Highton-Smith-Kennington-Jones is waving goodbye to her weeping parents and starting her first day at boarding school. But something is wrong at Winchesterfield-Downsfordvale Academy for Proper Young Ladies.

The headmistress, Miss Grimm, hasn’t been seen for ten years. The prize-winning flowers are gone. And a mysterious stranger is camping in the greenhouse. Alice-Miranda must complete a series of impossible tests. Can she really beat the meanest, most spoilt girl at school in a solo sailing mission?

Could she camp in the forest all on her own for five whole days and nights? Well, of course. This is Alice-Miranda, after all.

~*~

Alice-Miranda Highton-Smith Kennington-Jones is seven and one quarter, and off to boarding school at Winchesterfield-Downsfordvale Academy for Proper Young Ladies – the same school her mother, aunts, grandmother and great-grandmother have all attended. Except she’s heading off earlier than her relatives did. When Alice-Miranda arrives, she notices something is wrong – the headmistress, Miss Grimm has not been seen for ten years, she has to deal with Alethea Goldsworthy and her tantrums and attitude towards everyone in the school. Soon, Alice-Miranda has warmed the hearts of everyone at the school – except Miss Grimm who demands Alice-Miranda must complete a test, a camp-out and a sporting event to prove she belongs at the school.

AWW2020I read this because I was sent the nineteenth book, Alice-Miranda in the Outback to review, and have Alice-Miranda in Scotland as well, and even though I have heard Jacqueline say they can be read in any order, I wanted to at least read the first book to get to know the main characters who appear across the series and what they do, and where they started. It is one of Jacqueline Harvey’s popular series, and preceded Clementine-Rose and Kensy and Max. It is just as delightful and takes different characters and plots throughout each series and makes them work seamlessly.

Alice-Miranda is adorable and fun – she’s smart, and everyone loves her and can do anything she sets her mind to. She doesn’t let anyone tell her she can’t – and it was lovely to see a character with varied interests represented for younger readers and readers of all ages and genres. Alice-Miranda is the kind of character who is instantly comforting and someone you always want to be around. She cares about everyone and takes an interest. Her kindness is infectious on each page as she explores her new world, makes friends and brings the school back to life. She deals with Alethea gracefully, and in doing so, proves that honesty and integrity is more powerful than paying for power and respect. It shows that doing the right thing and being kind is often the best way to go and showing a bit of compassion also helps.

I’m looking forward to reading more about Alice-Miranda and her friends, and their adventures. It is a delightful series for all readers of middle grade books, and deftly brings this amazing young girl to life in a magical way. I loved reading this book, it sets up the world of Alice-Miranda and her school and friends perfectly, and with eighteen and soon to be nineteen books in the series, she’s gone on many adventures, and positioning them all in a different setting is lovely. The charm in this story shines through Alice- Miranda and her bubbly personality and the way she makes everyone around her smile and feel at ease. It is a story that shows you can do anything, and setting your mind to a task can give you confidence. Yet at the same time, you can also be scared, or worried. You can be smart, sporty – whoever you want. Be true to yourself and like Alice-Miranda, you will find the right path for you. I look forward to reading more of these books in the future.

 

Isolation Publicity with Alison Booth

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.

the-philosophers-daughter-cover

Alison Booth has a PhD from the London School of Economics, and is the author of several books, including The Philosopher’s Daughter, which came out in early April. Like many of my participants, she had events and launches cancelled. With some of these moving online, my series is one aspect of how these authors are getting the word about their books out there, and in some cases, I am reviewing them – these reviews will appear in separate posts as close to the interview date as possible – or as soon as I can get them up – I am hoping to stick to keeping them close together, otherwise will link them to each other in the posts when I am able to.

 

Hi Alison, and welcome to The Book Muse!

 

  1. Your novel, The Philosopher’s Daughters, came out on the second of April, 2020. To begin, can you tell my readers a bit about your latest book?

 

The Philosopher’s Daughters is a tale of two very different sisters whose 1890s voyage from London into remote outback Australia becomes a journey of self-discovery, set against a landscape of wild beauty and savage dispossession.

 

  1. What inspired this book in particular, and what genre do you usually write in?

 

For years the idea for The Philosopher’s Daughters just wouldn’t let me alone. I kept imagining 1890s London and two strong but very different young women, the daughters of a widowed moral philosopher. Someone like John Stuart Mill, a great advocate for the emancipation of women. Someone who gives the girls a relatively modern upbringing. Then I wanted to introduce an alteration in the sisters’ circumstances so that they separately choose to journey into remote and wild Australia. What might happen to them?  How might they see life at the ‘frontier’ once they are confronted with the brutal dispossession of the Indigenous population? How would their characters develop as they faced danger?

 

The second half of The Philosopher’s Daughters mostly takes place in the Northern Territory of South Australia, one of the last areas of the continent to be appropriated by British colonisers.  At that time and in that part of Australia, the frontier wars were still being fought, largely over the establishment of the cattle industry, although they weren’t recognised as frontier wars back then.

 

I’ve long been fascinated by how children are shaped by the preferences and attitudes of their parents; they can react against them, agree with them, or be crushed by them. The closer we are to a parent, the harder it can be to move away from their influence and develop in one’s own right. This is the burden that Harriet, the older of the two sisters, carries.

 

 

  1. What events did you have to cancel due to the pandemic, and where were these events going to take place?

 

We’d planned events in the UK, which is where the novel is published. Needless to say, these have had to be cancelled and my trip to the UK had to be shelved too. To make things more complicated, the London warehouse went into lockdown some weeks ago so book distribution halted. However, the publisher organised a British book bloggers tour that began before the lockdown, and I’m thrilled with the responses.

Amazon has the kindle version of the book on its UK and Australian websites, and once the UK lockdown ends and the paperback version of the book is mobile again and arrives in Australia, we have plans for events in Australia.

I’ve been very impressed with the outreach from the book community to authors whose releases have been affected by the Covid-19 lockdowns. I’m very grateful to you and all the others who have offered coverage on their blogs.

 

 

  1. Other than The Philosopher’s Daughters, what other works have you written, and what genre are they in, or are they all different genres?

 

My previous novels include A Perfect Marriage (2018), a work of contemporary fiction, while my first three novels (Stillwater Creek (2010), The Indigo Sky (2011), and A Distant Land (2012),) are historical fiction spanning the period from the late 1950s through to the early 1970s. More details can be seen at my fiction website: http:// http://www.alisonbooth.net

 

  1. Have any of your books won any awards?

 

Stillwater Creek was Highly Commended in the ACT Book of the Year Award in 2011 and A Perfect Marriage was Highly Commended in the 2019 ACT Writing and Publishing Awards.

 

  1. You’re also a professor at ANU in Canberra – what is your PhD in, and what do you teach?

 

My PhD is from the London School of Economics and is in economics. During my teaching career, I taught a variety of courses and my favourites were graduate labour economics and public economics. I am Emeritus Professor now and I no longer teach but I’m continuing with research projects.

 

  1. What is your area of interest, and why did you choose this area in particular?

 

My research interest is behavioural economics, which studies the effects of psychological and cultural factors and the like on the economic decisions of individuals and institutions. I chose this area because of my interest in the links between cultural factors, economics and psychology.

 

  1. Does this area of study and research inform your fiction writing, or do you find they are completely separate?

 

There is some overlap to the extent that fiction involves human psychology and I’ve always been interested in this. But also my research is concerned with inequalities, both in terms of racial and gender issues, and this comes across in the fiction.

 

  1. When not teaching and writing, what do you enjoy doing?

 

Reading, bush walking, visits to art galleries and the cinema, and dining with friends.

 

  1. Do you have a favourite book or comfort read, and why this one in particular?

 

My father introduced me to the novels of Patrick White. I love reading and rereading them. While at each stage of my life I’ve noticed different things about these books, I particularly appreciate the landscapes White describes and his acute psychological insights.

I don’t have a comfort read but I do have a comfort TV programme, and that is the complete set of episodes of Dad’s Army. The characters in this series are superb.

 

  1. How do you switch between academic writing and fiction writing, or do you have a schedule and process to do this easily?

 

When I’m writing the first draft of a novel, I work very regularly and aim for 300 words a day. This is not many words and I can fit this in with other things happening in my life. Once a draft is finished, I put it away for a while and then block off a chunk of time when I can work on revising it. I don’t mind the actual switching between the different forms of writing any more, though I did find that shift between heart and head difficult to begin with. I write many drafts; for each novel there are typically well over twenty.

 

 

  1. What do you have planned next for your fictional worlds?

 

I’m working on two book drafts. Both are historical although not in the purists’ definition of historical as being set more than fifty years ago. I’m at the redraft stage for both projects, so would prefer to keep them under wraps until I work out what needs doing to each of them.

 

 

  1. Books are important in these trying times – what booksellers are you trying to support and purchase books from?

 

Local bookstores and for some purchases Booktopia and Fishpond.

 

  1. With many festivals and launches heading online at the moment, do you think this will continue after the pandemic, making access to these easier for those who can’t attend in any capacity?

 

My guess is that online events will continue for a while, but with time – assuming the pandemic goes and the associated fears fade – we will return to the physical form, perhaps modified in some way and there may well be hybrid events. If we do return to where we were before the pandemic, I think it is very important for organisers of book events and festivals to provide podcasts for those who are unable to attend for whatever reason. Maybe this lockdown will have provided us all with more skills so this can be achieved.

 

 

  1. Do you have a favourite book or author?

 

That’s a difficult question! I admire a great many authors and read widely. My favourite authors include Patrick White, Toni Morrison, Peter Carey, Kate Grenville, Rose Tremain, and Anna Burns. This year I’ve read some wonderful books including Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing and Anna Burns’ Milkman.

 

 

  1. What were your favourite books to read when you were younger?

 

When I was very young my favourite books were by authors Arthur Ransome and Enid Blyton, and I also loved the children’s encyclopedias on my parents’ bookshelves.

 

 

Thank you, Alison,

 

Thank you so much, Ashleigh. If anyone reading this interview likes my books, I’d be delighted if they could post a review on the website of their favourite bookstore and on Amazon. Online feedback is really important to authors and particularly so in this pandemic period.

 

Edie’s Experiments: How to Make Friends by Charlotte Barkla

Edies Experiments 1Title: Edie’s Experiments: How to Make Friends
Author: Charlotte Barkla
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Puffin Australia
Published: 4th February 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 240
Price: $14.99
Synopsis: A new school, a classroom full of potential new friends and a science kit. What could possibly go wrong?
I’m Edie and I love science. So when I started at a new school, I decided it could be one giant experiment.

Can I give you some advice? Avoid sliming your entire classroom. You could end up in trouble with your teacher, your new classmates and the principal.

Between the great slime fiasco, the apology cookie surprise and the wrinkle cream mix-up, I’ve discovered making friends isn’t an exact science!

~*~

Edie is about to start a new school – and she is uncertain about her new school and making friends. Yet she’s not sure how – until she decides to run a series of experiments to impress her new classmates and teacher – they all start well, but end in utter disaster, and start causing trouble for her at school with her teacher, her classmates and her principal. All Edie wants to do is make new friends – and her heart is in the right place, even though her execution might not be. She hopes she can fix things for everyone – but as she discovers during her experiments, there doesn’t seem to be a science or formula to making friends.

Edie’s story will be familiar to kids who have started a new school or moved somewhere new – and it explores the struggles of fitting in with new people and what is expected in the classroom, at school and with everyone. The rules of how to behave in order to fit in and make sure you’re doing the right thing are explored through Edie’s eyes as she tries to do whatever she can to make friends and get to know people.

AWW2020She has other obstacles – Annie B seems to like her, but Emily James who seems nice at first, starts to turn on Edie, and Edie misses her friend, Winnie. Edie is a delightful character, who is passionate about science and fun, and really, really wants to make friends and fit in. I loved that her parents were so supportive and talked her through things and made an effort to understand her – this showed a positive relationship that made the book even more powerful.

Even though Edie’s main love is science – kids who might have different interests will be able to relate to her, and it is also nice to see young girls represented in a variety of different ways in today’s children’s literature, especially books written by Australian authors. This is a really cool trend to be following as a blogger and reader, and the familiar spaces of school bring children into the story naturally with the setting, and then bring in different interests, diverse characters, and many other aspects that are growing and evolving in books. It is an interesting time to be reader and reviewer – across the board, as we see stories told from perspectives that ten years ago even, might not have been done. Books like this, whilst possibly aimed at girls interested in science – can be read and enjoyed by anyone because it also explores universal themes of school, fitting in, family, friends and fun, and being yourself – messages and themes that stick with us throughout our lives and that are not limited to being a kid. This is why I enjoy reading books for younger readers as well – the universal themes that we all grapple with.

A great read for all ages, all genders – anyone really, who loves a good yarn.

Henrie’s Hero Hunt (House of Heroes #2) by Petra James

hero huntTitle: Henrie’s Hero Hunt (House of Heroes #2)
Author: Petra James, illustrated by A. Yi
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Walker Books
Published: 1st of May 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 230
Price: $16.99
Synopsis: A girl. A boy. A great aunt. A mystery! The second book in the exciting House of Heroes series!
Henrie Melchior, the first girl born into the House of Heroes in 200 years, is on a Hero Hunt. When Marely Hart phones on the Hero Hotline, Henrie, Marley and Alex Fischer are in a race against time to find Henrie’s missing parents, a missing gold statue and the answers to questions piling up around her archaeologist great aunt . . . but Violetta Villarne from Villains Incorporated is watching very closely. The answers Henrie needs are buried somewhere in the past, but the present is a whirlwind of secrets and subterfuge. Will Henrie solve the Hunt? Will she find her parents? Or will the House of Melchior shadow her forever?
• The second in a fun and funny middle-grade series, the successor to Deb Abela’s Max Remy series and Lauren Child’s Ruby Redfort: Genius Girl Spy.
• Perfect for readers who like their heroes to be smart, fearless and ready for action. Featuring strong male and female characters.
• Accessible high-interest text with illustrations by A. Yi, illustrator of the Alice-Miranda, Clementine Rose and Kensy and Max series.
About the author
Petra James was born in a small town in the South Island of New Zealand, and came to Australia via London. She has written several fiction titles for children such as The Most Ungrateful Girl in the World and the seven books in the Arkie Sparkle series. Like Arkie Sparkle, she wanted to be an archaeologist when she grew up (she had planned to work her way through the career alphabet but didn’t get past “A”), but instead sold chocolate chip cookies and eventually found her way into publishing. When she is not sending fictional characters on adventures, she works in children’s publishing in Sydney. Hapless Hero Henrie and Henrie’s Hero Hunt are her first books with Walker.
About the illustrator
A. Yi is an illustrator and animation artist based in Sydney. She likes doodling and wishes all books were illustrated. She has illustrated various children’s books including the bestselling Alice Miranda series.

~*~

Henrie Melchior has just picked up the ringing phone in HoMe – Home of Melchior. Marley Hart wants Henrie to help find the person following her, and so, thus begins Henrie’s first Hero Hunt and mystery. She’s on the trail of Agnes Hart, a deceased relative of Marley’s, accused of a theft. But there is more to Agnes than they all know, and soon, Henrie, Alex and Marley set off to uncover what Agnes had been hiding when she died, whilst trying to evade Violetta Villarne from Villains Incorporate, or VillInc.

AWW2020Tim Fischer and Ellie are present, yet it is Alex, Henrie and Marley who drive the action, as it is in many kids books these days. It’s an interesting and refreshing trend – for years, kids were orphans, or the adults were uninterested. Yet something has begun to change. The kids can still go on adventures, but adults are always there at the end of the story when the kids have finished for the day. It is a world that feels like it could be in Australia but also feels like it could be taking place somewhere like England – both feel equally appropriate.

As the second in the series, Henrie’s Hero Hunt ties in nicely with Hapless Hero Henrie yet as the protagonist, Henrie, recaps the first book for readers, it is okay to read this one first. However, it is a lot more fun to start at the beginning! Throughout the book, Henrie’s story is peppered with interactive questions and codes for readers to fill in and have fun with as they read, making it an accessible story as kids are able to put themselves in the story with Henrie and her friends – giving kids the adventure they seek – fun with friends, and safety they need with family – with just the right amount of danger.

Henrie’s Hero Hunt is exciting, fun, and filled with revelations throughout the novel that hint at what is to come in the next few books, whilst solving a few mysteries – but where these elements go is a question for the next book, and the rest of the series. Villains Inc and Henrie’s male cousins and uncle have been set up as the antagonists of the series, and the ones who will try to thwart Henrie. But with Marley and Alex by her side, Henrie will find that she can do anything – and the villains don’t stand a chance! They’re still all kids, though. But kids who know how to take hold of the situation before them and do what they can with what they have.

Petra James has cleverly taken hero, villain and spy tropes, and turned words like clairvoyant into names that are puns to create this world. These are fun, and intricately done and work seamlessly with the novel and characters. They add to the fun and humour in a way that will entertain younger readers and teach them about playing with language. Confident and older readers might catch the nuances faster, but half the fun is just enjoying them for what they are and how they work within the story and series. As the second in the series. It follows on perfectly from the first book, and both have alliterative titles, which is lots of fun as well. Books that play with language like this can encourage a lifelong of words and reading and is thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable on all levels.

Another great middle grade book for readers aged nine and older.

Isolation Publicity with poet, Jennifer MacKenzie

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.

Navigable-ink_cover

Jennifer MacKenzie is a poet, published with Transit Lounge in 2020. Her collection of poetry, Navigable Ink, was inspired by an Indonesian writer, Pramoedya Ananta Toer – as Jennifer describes below. Like many authors, she had various launches and events cancelled, and so is taking part in this interview – hopefully it will get the word about her book out there. Up until now, most of my interviewees have been in the fiction, non-fiction and kid-lit worlds of writing, so it is interesting to get a poet on here, and discuss her work and what she has had to cancel.

Hi Jennifer, and welcome to The Book Muse.

1. To start, can you tell my readers a bit about your book, Navigable Ink?

Navigable Ink is a homage to the Indonesian writer, Pramoedya Ananta Toer. It is a portrait of an artist living under extreme stress, but who has the courage to continue his work, and reflect broadly on history and on the political responsibility of the artist. I have employed a number of methods, including creating poems based on some of Pramoedya’s writings, in both fiction and memoir, and also dedicating poems to contemporary Indonesian artist activists. I have focused on the beauty of the Indonesian landscape, and introduced a variety of poetic forms across the collection, in order to make it as vivid and engaging as possible.

2. What inspired, or drove you to write this work in particular?

My previous poetry collection, Borobudur, required a great deal of research into Indonesian history. It was during that time that I began to read Pramoedya extensively. However, writing a collection of poetry is often a slow process. It is only in the last few years that I began to imagine the possibilities of basing a collection on someone I greatly admired.

3. When did you start writing poetry, and what made you decide this was how you wanted to write?

When I was at school I was very fortunate to have the late artist, Les Kossatz, as a teacher for one year. As well as teaching art, he also gave us writing exercises. His way of life, with the studio and artist friends, seemed very exciting to me. At the same time, I was reading a lot of Patrick White, and I found his prose to be a model for poetry writing. At 18, I felt I had to choose either painting or poetry, and I (wisely, based on my painting ability!) chose poetry.

4. What events and launches did you have planned before COVID-19 came along, and you had to cancel everything?

Navigable Ink was due to be launched at Readings in Melbourne on April 1. I was in the process of organising some interstate readings, but they too had to be abandoned. I am scheduled to have events in New York in September, and at the Ubud Writers Festival in October, but they must be considered highly unlikely to happen.

5. How much time have you spent in Indonesia?

Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time there, either travelling or doing research for my books. I’ve also participated in a number of writers’ festivals and conferences there.

6. When you translated Pramoodya Ananta Toer’s work, did you have to do any extra study of the Indonesian language?
Yes I did. I studied Indonesian at the University of Melbourne, and at the Universitas Gajah Mada in Jogjakarta.

7. What was it about Toer’s story that interested you, and did you meet him prior to translating his work?

I was very interested in how his writing delineated patterns in history, and how these patterns were central to his own situation as a persecuted writer. I was attracted to his methodology in opening up the history of Indonesia and its culture. Unfortunately I didn’t have the opportunity to meet him, but many of my friends did. I communicated with him through friends who visited him.

8. Have you translated any other works into English, or from English into other languages?

Pramoedya’s Arus Balik (Cross-Currents) is the only translation I’ve done.

9. What sort of messages about activism do you think poetry can communicate to readers?

Poetry can take an ethical position on crucial issues such as the climate crisis, and do so in a number of inventive ways. Eco-poetry is an example of poetry which can encompass historical, political and environmental issues while employing a diversity of forms.

10. What do you hope your poetry collection communicates to a wider readership?

Although Pramoedya is very well-known in Indonesia, he seems to be largely unknown in Australia. I have found that what he represents as an artist, and the relevance to the issues of today, of political freedom, of the freedom to write without censorship, of the importance of engagement with crucial historical and environmental issues, to be subjects that are resonating with readers.

11. Working in the arts, what has been something you’ve enjoyed as a poet and reviewer?

The best thing has been the engagement with writers and artists from all over the world. I have made some wonderful friends and have learnt so much from them.

12. With isolation hitting us all hard, how important do you think the arts, and in particular the arts in Australia is for everyone?

Nearly everyone is drawing on the arts in some form to help them through this difficult period. However the support for artists from the Federal Government has been conspicuously lacking. The good thing is that artists have been supporting each other with much generosity.

When it comes to supporting the arts, how important do you think it is to continue to support local artists, writers, organisations and booksellers over conglomerates in these times, given that if we don’t, we could lose our industry and local voices?

It is essential for governments and arts’ bodies to support the arts across the spectrum in this difficult time. Otherwise we are going to lose irreplaceable cultural capital.

13. How supportive do you think the Australian writing community is?

I have found the community to be very supportive, with writers buying and promoting each other’s books. I think we have come to realise how important the connections we have to each other are.

14. Finally, any future works of writing readers should be on the lookout for?

For poetry, Ellen van Neervan’s Throat, and Felicity Plunkett’s A Kinder Sea. (UQP) For prose, Barry Lee Thompson’s Broken Rules and Other Stories (Transit Lounge) and Annee Lawrence’s The Colour of Things Unseen (Aurora Metro Books)

Anything further?

Thanks Jennifer!

Book Bingo Five 2020 – Coming of Age

Book bingo 2020

May, and round five of 2020 book bingo with Amanda and Theresa! Many of the posts have been from books I have read in January and earlier in the year, yet something about checking off the categories during the quieter times of the year is really satisfying, as I know that by checking off the ones I can easily fill in, that by the time I get to the harder ones, there’ll be less pressure to get through it all and make sure it is done. Also, when it comes to my Book Bingo wrap up post, I won’t have to add in links as I go, I can do it all at once.

For my fifth square, I chose coming of age. For this square, there will be many books, and many ways this story can be told. For this one, however, I chose a book that came out in February that Scholastic asked me to review, and one that even though I knew it was for review, I kept thinking of quiz questions for.

ella at eden

The book is the first in a new series, that is part of the Ella and Olivia family, where each stage of Ella’s life is focused on by a different author. This new series is about Ella as a teenager at a boarding school called Eden. Ella at Eden: New Girl by Laura Sieveking shows Ella on the brink of becoming a teenager, where she starts at a new school, far from home. Here, she will discover more of who she is and what she likes, and Eden will help her do this.

As the teenage years are a time of big change for people, this is why it works as a coming of age – Ella is starting to discover who she is separate from her family, and for those who have read Ella and Olivia, and the Ella Diaries, it is a great continuation from these series, and having written some Ella and Olivia quizzes, I really enjoyed this book, and look forward to more in the series.

Isolation Publicity with Sonya Bates

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.

My next interview is with Sonya Bates, author of The Inheritance of Secrets, one of the shortlisted authors of the inaugural Banjo Prize with HarperCollins Australia – in 2018. I reviewed it here on the 20th of April, it’s review date. Sonya, like many authors who have appeared, has had events, launches and appearances cancelled due to COVID-19. She agreed to participate in my Isolation Publicity series – there are more to come, and I am waiting for some answers to pop back, so be on the lookout over the next few weeks.

Inheritance of Secrets

Hi Sonya, and welcome to The Book Muse,

  1. Where did the idea for your novel, Inheritance of Secrets, come from?

The idea for Inheritance of Secrets came from a character – the character of Karl from the historical thread of the novel. Karl is a fictional character who was inspired by my dad, who grew up in Germany in the same era, when Hitler was in power. Like Karl, he was drafted at the age of eighteen and sent to war. My dad was such a quiet, peace-loving person and I couldn’t imagine him being involved in such a terrible part of history. It made me want to write something that involved an ordinary person caught up in terrible times.

  1. What was it like growing up being aware of what your father went through?

It wasn’t something I thought about a lot. It’s not something he talked about. He was just my dad. But every once in a while, something would trigger thoughts about it. Like around Remembrance Day when the teacher would ask if anyone’s father or grandfather had fought in either of the World Wars. I never said anything, because he’d fought on the side of the enemy (we were living in Canada).  I needn’t have been embarrassed about that. He was an ordinary man fighting for his country like so many thousands of men on both sides of the conflict were doing.

  1. Do you think novels like yours with basis on real events and experiences, and presented in a fictional way, can help people understand the grey areas of history and people?

That’s an interesting question. I know, from a reader’s perspective, I love historical fiction because it makes history personal. It puts the reader in a character’s head as they deal with the issues of the time, and gives history a sense of reality. It humanises it. It may also give readers a glimpse of the times of their ancestors, and allow them to connect with their own history. How factual it is depends on the author’s research and their understanding of the time, so in that sense it is, as is all history, one person’s perspective on the time period. But it can put a new slant on history, allow the reader to look at it from a new perspective and consider it in a different way. Novelists have been doing that for quite some time – think Jane Eyre, The Color Purple or The Book Thief. The stories of individual people behind the big events of history. And it’s becoming more prevalent in recent times, especially the telling of stories from the female perspective, which has traditionally been largely ignored in history. Hannah Kent’s novels are a great example, as is Molly Murn’s Heart of the Grass Tree. Inheritance of Secrets isn’t purely a historical novel, and the historical thread is deliberately linked to the contemporary story and designed to provide clues to the mystery. But early readers have said how interesting they’ve found it, and I love that they’ve connected with it.

  1. Roughly how long did it take you to write this novel?

From the first spark of an idea to publication? Probably ten years! But I wasn’t working on it all that time. The idea mulled around in my head for years before I started working on it. I was writing children’s fiction at the time as well as working in Speech Pathology. I dabbled around doing a bit of research and writing a couple of scenes. Ideas were building in my head, but I couldn’t seem to get them down. Finally I concluded that if I really wanted to tackle this, then I needed some dedicated time to write it. I took some time off and did just that. It took me about ten months to write the first draft. Then another couple of years editing before I thought it was close to ready for submission. I signed the contract with HarperCollins late in 2018.

  1. What sort of research beyond your father’s experiences did you undertake whilst working on Inheritance of Secrets?

 

Most of the research was done either online or in libraries and museums. I did talk to my dad some on the phone and when I visited him in Canada, but it wasn’t something he ever wanted to talk about, and so I didn’t pry about his own experiences. He shared a portion of his private memoirs with me while I was researching, and we spoke more in general terms, about the character Karl and what he might or might not have experienced. I relied more on reading memoirs and personal accounts, letters and diaries I found at the State Library or online. As well as scholarly texts on the time periods and the war years both in Germany and Australia. In 2018 I went to Germany and visited many of the museums dealing with the time before, during and after WWII, and also went to Halle (Saale) where Karl and Grete grew up, to walk the streets they would have walked and see the river park where they said their good-byes.

  1. What inspired you to enter the Banjo prize, and do you think it’s a good step for first time authors to take?

The Banjo Prize came at the perfect time for me. I’d done a number of edits on the manuscript, had feedback from beta readers, and felt I was almost ready to send it out to look for a publisher. I’d actually sent it off to a couple of agents, and while they weren’t prepared to offer me representation, they gave me detailed feedback that was immensely helpful. It was about that time that HarperCollins announced the launch of the Banjo Prize. I still wasn’t sure that the manuscript was ready, but basically thought, ‘You’ve gotta be in it to win it.’ So I did one last edit and sent it off with fingers crossed.

I think competitions like the Banjo Prize are a brilliant way for first time authors to get noticed. You can guarantee your manuscript will be read within a timely period for one, and if it does catch the attention of the publishers, even if you don’t win, being shortlisted for a competition looks great on your resume. And you never know, shortlisted manuscripts may be picked up, like mine was.

  1. After your manuscript was acquired, what did you have to do to get your work ready for publication?

The editing process can be a daunting one, especially the structural edit, but I knew that it would be the final step to making the book the best that it could be. For me, it involved fleshing out some of the characters, delving more into their relationships and expanding on the historical thread so that the character of Grete was more real to the reader. I think, coming from writing children’s fiction, my writing is quite spare. I’ve learned to say as much as I need to in as few words as possible, which is something I appreciate as a reader as well. I don’t like things spelled out too clearly. But going this step further with Inheritance of Secrets has made the book so much better. The editors at HarperCollins were brilliant. They didn’t tell me what to do, just pointed things out, asked questions and made suggestions, and then let me consider what was the best thing to do for the book. I think the changes will help the reader to form a stronger connection with the characters.

  1. A debut novel is an exciting event – what events did you have planned for the launch of your novel prior to the current crisis?

The release of Inheritance of Secrets was still a couple of months away when COVID-19 reared its ugly head and things started shutting down. So while my publicist had all sorts of events in mind, not many had been booked. The official book launch at Dymocks Adelaide was cancelled, as well as a collaborative author event that some writer friends and I had booked at a local library. I was able to get around to meet booksellers in Adelaide and Brisbane in January, which was really nice. Everyone was very welcoming and enthusiastic about the book.

  1. When did you decide you wanted to write books and explore stories?

I’ve always liked to write. I wrote stories as a child, although I never showed them to anyone. And after university, I wrote stories to use in therapy when I was working in Speech Pathology. It was when my girls were small and I was taking time off from work that I started to consider writing with the intent of being published. I saw an ad in the newspaper for a correspondence course in writing for children. I needed something for myself, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity. It was great fun, and rekindled my desire to write more. Soon after, I had my first chapter book accepted for publication, so that was very encouraging and the start of an ongoing pursuit of writing and being published.

  1. What was the book that made you fall in love with reading? Any particular reason that book stands out for you?

I don’t remember one particular book. I’ve loved reading since I was a kid. The whole family loved to read. Some favourites were Anne of Green Gables and the Little House on the Prairie series, so even then I loved historical fiction.

  1. War seems to be a common theme in lots of historical fiction at the moment – what is it about war that you think lends itself so well to telling a multitude of stories for a modern audience?

Another great question! I think times of extreme circumstances bring out the best and the worst in people, and can be a catalyst for strong human emotion. And war is definitely one of those extreme situations – especially a world war. People were fighting to survive, and when your family and your life is at stake, you may do things you wouldn’t do under ordinary circumstances. Both good and bad. It’s not something many of us growing up in the modern western world have experienced. Historical novels about war and desperate times put the reader into the head of the character and allow them to experience second-hand what they hope they never will see in real life. War stories may also give readers a different perspective on a period of history. They can put a face to the ‘enemy’, and provide a glimpse of them as a person, possibly provide some insight into their mind and motivation. Every story needs conflict and an antagonist, but no antagonist is completely evil, and revealing those layers of humanity is what makes a story compelling.

  1. What are you currently reading, and do you have a favourite author?

I’m currently reading The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams and also Silver by Chris Hammer. I don’t often read two at once, but it demonstrates my love for the two genres of historical fiction and crime. I also read contemporary fiction and recently finished Saving Missy by Beth Morrey. I have many favourite authors. Hannah Kent and Jane Harper are probably the two that come to mind as stand-outs.

  1. You’ve previously written for children – what have you written, and which one do you think you enjoyed writing the most?

I’ve written ten books for children and young adults, chapter books and high-interest low-reading-level books for reluctant readers. Most of them have been published by Orca Book Publishers in Canada. To be honest, the children’s novel I enjoyed writing most hasn’t yet found a publisher. It’s a science fiction adventure for middle-grade readers and was just so much fun to write – creating a whole new world and writing from an entirely different perspective. And great fun consulting with my brother on the technical aspects of it too.

  1. Has your career as a speech pathologist helped you understand story and language differently in any way?

I’ve worked in speech pathology for most of my life, so it’s hard to say how it’s influenced my understanding of story and language. Certainly my study of linguistics and speech pathology gave me a good grasp of grammar and the nuances of dialect and colloquial speech. And an understanding of basic story structure. But that’s something that all writers develop at one point or another. I think what working in this field has given me is an appreciation of the difficulties some people have with language and reading and the need to make story accessible to everyone, whether it’s through hi/lo books, audiobooks, graphic novels or even music.

  1. What do you think you’ll be working on for future stories, and will these be for adults or children?

I’m currently working on another adult crime novel. As with Inheritance of Secrets, it explores family dynamics, relationships and trust issues. That seems to be a recurrent theme in a lot of my writing, both for children and adults. Beyond that, I don’t have anything planned. I’ll work with the ideas that present themselves, whether for children or adults.

Anything that you think I have missed?

No, this has been very comprehensive and given me some interesting food for thought.

Thank you Sonya, and best of luck with your novel.  Thank you!