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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Blood Song by Rhiannon Hart. Sydney: Random House, 2011

Zeraphina is the younger princess of Amentia, a small queendom in the south of her continent. It's cold, getting colder and the crops are failing regularly. Her mother needs to make an advantageous match for her older daughter, Lilith - to be blunt, a rich one. When an offer comes from the northern country of Pergamia, which is much warmer - and wealthier - than Amentia, the queen is thrilled.

Zeraphina is happy, but for different reasons. Unlike her red-haired mother and sister, she is dark, with pale blue eyes, after a strange childhood illness. She craves blood. And something is calling her north. She isn't sure what, but she knows she needs to go. The worrying thing is - what if something dreadful is about to happen, not only to her but to her beloved sister?

And why won't anyone talk about the mysterious Lharmellins, who live in the bleak far-north country of Lharmell?

Despite the Gothic cover art (which girls are going to love, by the way!) the novel is a fun read. The language is colloquial and chatty and Zeraphina is a likeable character who isn't planning to be Cinderella waiting for a prince, even if she wasn't worried that she might end up biting him. She's no swooning Gothic heroine either, unless they've started doing archery and going on dangerous quests. When she does something stupid, she admits it, to herself if no one else.

It's the first in a series, it seems, so there will be something for young readers to look forward to.

This one is going straight into my school library.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Crow Country by Kate Constable. Melbourne: Allen and Unwin, 2011

Sadie and her mother have moved from their lovely Melbourne home by the sea to Boort, her mother's home town in regional Victoria, where there is a drought. Boort has a history, both for her mother and further back. The same families have lived in the town for the last century and more.

The local artificial lake has dried up, leaving behind some old graves and indigenous relics. When Sadie is exploring the dried lake bed, with its small cemetery and a circle of stones set up by the indigenous people, she finds herself confronting Waa the Crow, the local totem bird. A past tragedy has influenced the present. Sadie must find the end to that story, which is dark to the Crow.

Time-slipping back to the 1930s, when her mother's grandparents were running the local store, Sadie discovers the truth behind the tragedy. The key to the story's end lies in the present - and she will need help to find it.

Kate Constable is a master of the time-slip fantasy. Actually, she seems to do fantasy pretty well whatever it is. Whether it's the present-day fantasy of this one and Cicada Summer or the Tamora Pierce-style world-building of the Chanters of Tremaris series, she creates a wonderful sense of the fantastical and characters you can care about.

In this case, we have not only the time-slip but the indigenous theme and the reminder that the racism of the past hasn't gone away in our own time.

A touching story, beautifully-told.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

In My Mailbox

Received recently: Crow Country by Kate Constable, finished and soon to be reviewed. Shake A Leg by Boori Monty Pryor and Jan Ormerod, Blood Song by Rhiannon Hart (halfway through, good fun so far), Michael Pryor's final Laws of Magic book, Hour of Need (likewise halfway and trying to slow down and relish it, because it is the last!), today Vicious Little Darlings by Katherine Easer, which I suspect will appeal to kids who enjoyed Rebecca James's Beautiful Malice. These are only on the top of my pile, but I have plenty more I'm trying to get through when I don't have to prepare classes or go to meetings or doing stuff in my library - or writing my own books and short fiction...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Selena Wang Interviews Cath Crowley

Greetings Great Raven readers. Once more, Selena Wang, guest blogger, is with us to interview yet another terrific writer. This time, it's award-winning Cath Crowley, whose book, Graffiti Moon, has already picked up a number of awards - the Ethel Turner Award for Young People's Literature, the Prime Minister's Award and an Honour Book in the CBCA Awards. It's currently on the short list for the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards. With good reason, by the way - it's a funny, gentle, delightful story.

Cath kindly agreed to the following interview. Enjoy!

SW: Where did you get the idea for this novel?

CC: The idea for Graffiti Moon came from a few places.

Shadow and Lucy, the main characters, connect through art. So the conversations that they have are inspired by the artists I love - Mark Rothko, Sam Leach, Rosemary Laing, Jeffrey Smart, Pablo Picasso, Johannes Vermeer, Michael Zavros, Rosalie Gascoigne, Bethany Wheeler, Ghostpatrol and Miso. I wanted to write about two people who speak through images as well as words.

I met a boy, one night in park who, told me he was a nighttime poet. I met a girl who told me she was psychic. I met a boy who told me he knew someone who had blue haloed on his hands. I met a boy who had egged his girlfriend and then she’d dumped him.

But all of those things were just the initial sparks. Then I made the characters.

I think probably the real idea for this novel started about five years back, when I was working with a group of very smart students. They were the most creative, determined people I’ve ever met and they had to be – they had learning difficulties and they had to learn how to survive and do well in the school system.

SW: Why graffiti? Has any particular piece ever caught you or do you know someone who does it?

CC: Only part of the novel is about street art. A lot of the art that Shadow and Lucy love are works in galleries.

When I was writing I had it in my head that Shadow loved artists like Ghostpatrol, Miso, Regan Tamanui and Banksy (maybe because I love them). I found some of these artists myself. Some I found by asking questions of young people. Some I found by having conversations with artists like Marcus Jobling, who has an interest in the area. I also spent quite a bit of time on trains looking out at walls.

I did a little bit of looking at the street art in Melbourne – and it’s amazing. Hosier Lane, in the streets that run off Brunswick Street in Fitzroy – I went there at night and during the day. I went to Union Lane in the city and Smith Street and Flinders Lane.

But I stopped pretty soon – because Ed is a total outsider – I didn’t want him fitting into any group. I wanted to write about someone who was outside the outside. And I knew the book would be about art – in all forms – and I didn’t want it to be about a street artist. I wanted Ed to love Ghostpatrol but also love Jeffrey Smart and Vermeer and Sam Leach.

I had a feeling if it was too much about that then people might not see that the book is about seeing – how we see art, each other, the world.

I knew too that the art he made would show the reader that landscape inside his head – so all of his art had to come from my imagination and I was worried that if I kept looking at the walls around Melbourne I wouldn’t be able to get that out of my head and I wouldn’t be able to create Ed’s inner world of ghosts trapped in jars and hearts rocked by earthquakes and birds trapped on bricks walls, trying to escape.

SW: Were any of the characters based on real people?

The characters weren’t based on real people but the people I met inspired me. That poet in the park gave me an idea that I couldn’t get out of my head. What if someone who looked dangerous, who looked nothing like we think a ‘poet’ might look, wrote words in the night? When I met that poet I thought he was going to rob me. Instead, he asked me to go the tattoo parlour with him. He needed someone to pretend to be his mum because he was underage. (I didn’t go.) But instead of being robbed, he gave me a story. Fitting, considering that Graffiti Moon is about how we perceive and misperceive people.

SW: Was any event based on fact?

CC: I did meet a boy who egged his girlfriend, but I changed their personalities to suit my book. I did meet a girl who told me she was psychic, but I changed her too, of course. When you make a character you have to build their whole inner world. So I get ideas from meeting people, but that’s never enough to make the whole character.

SW: Why Year 12?

Graffiti Moon is set on the last night of Year 12. That night has a strange sort of momentum to it – I remember feeling as though my whole future would happen the next day. I wanted to write a narrative that had that same urgency, so keeping a tight timeframe was important.

SW: Reading about glassblowing made me want to try it. Have you ever done any yourself? If not, how did you research it?

CC: No, I haven’t! I would love to try it, though. I did watch a lot.

The inspiration for Lucy’s glass came (in part) from an artist called Bethany Wheeler. You can see her work at

I love Bethany’s work and she generously agreed to an interview. I spent some time in her studio where she explained the process of fusing and slumping glass. She talked about her experiences as a Year 12 student learning about glass. I knew after meeting Bethany that Lucy would want to be a glass artist.

SW: Have you ever seen any verse on walls?

CC: I haven’t seen verse on walls, but I’ve seen words written like this below. It’s not a poem but it make me think about who wrote it and why. I think fear is at the core of Leo. He has to overcome that so he can tell people about his poetry and so he can be with Jazz.

I’ve also seen personal stories on walls like this photo below. These words are actually on a bridge in Footscray. They’re the personal stories of asylum seekers. It’s quite overwhelming to read them all.

SW: Which Melbourne suburbs were you thinking of in this book? Did you see them by night? Do you have any stories about this?

CC: I drove around Footscray, so I was mainly thinking about that suburb when I wrote the book. I did mix it with other places, though. When Lucy and Ed are in the park I had the Merri Creek track in mind. There’s a path I used to walk and there’s quite a big drop there.

I don’t have a car, and I needed to drive past the docks on Footscray Road at night. I hired taxi drivers, which was a bit weird! I bribed friends to drive me over the Westgate and back and past the docks. Some nights I hired cars and parked in different places hoping to see people doing things at night that might inspire me. That’s a bit strange too, I guess. But it worked.

SW: Why did you choose to do the book from different viewpoints? If you could only do it from one viewpoint, which character would you choose?

CC: This is a great question. I think I would have to tell the story from Ed’s point of view. He is the main character to me. (Although I’m attached to them all.)

I often write from different viewpoints. I think it’s because I love writing in first person. And also because I’m preoccupied with how we perceive the world. How we see ourselves is different to how everyone else sees us. It’s fun using two narrators to explore this idea.

SW: Favourite book?

CC: Of mine? Graffiti Moon. Of someone else? I loved Fiona Wood’s Six Impossible Things.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Wolfborn Giveaway!

I had this bright idea that I would post a sample chapter from my novel Wolfborn on Goodreads. Unfortunately, I haven't worked out a way of doing it. My publisher sent me a PDF of Chapter 1 for the purpose, but copy-and-paste is simply not working properly - it looks awful! - and I have no idea how to just upload a PDF file.

I then went to the Goodreads Giveaway section, but it seems to be for the purpose of giving away preview copies of your forthcoming novel and this one is out.

So here's the deal: anyone who asks me, by September 4th, for a copy of the sample chapter, will get it emailed to them on that date. The first two people after that who have read the sample and liked it enough to ask will get a signed copy, wherever they are. The very first will also get a CD with an MP3 file of writer and actor George Ivanoff reading a sample - not the same chapter! - from my book and one from his novel Gamer's Quest.

If you're interested, post a comment here letting me know.

TEMPEST RISING By Tracy Deebs. London: Bloomsbury, 2011

Tempest Maguire is a half-mermaid. She lives with her father and younger brothers, since her mother went returned to the sea some years ago. She has been living a normal human, middle-class life, with friends, school, boyfriend and surfing.

But now her seventeenth birthday is approaching. Despite a letter from her mother telling her that she will be able to choose, when the time comes, whether to stay on land or become a mermaid, she is suddenly sprouting gills and has – temporarily, anyway – grown a tail while in the middle of surfing.

Then there’s the evil sea-witch, Tiamat, who is after her for reasons connected with a prophecy and a hunky surfer, Kona, who is more than he seems.

How do you go on with your normal teenage life when all this is happening?

This paranormal romance has the elements that girls look for in this sort of fiction – a heroine with supernatural gifts, a romantic triangle with two gorgeous boys, both crazy for her, one of them a supernatural being – we’ve had fallen angels and angst-ridden vampires and werewolves, why not a sea-creature? – a prophecy concerning the heroine and a villain who wants to use her gifts to get power.

The author has played with elements from different mythologies/folklores. Tiamat is the name of a Babylonian creatrix-goddess connected with the sea and selkies, the seal-people, properly belong to Celtic folklore but appear Hawaiian in this novel and seem to live in the tropics. It would have been nice if there had been some acknowledgement of this at the end, which might have sent young readers to look it up.

Although it can be read standalone, there are elements towards the end which suggest a sequel to come. The girls at my school will almost certainly be nagging me for it when the time comes.

CBCA Winners 2011

Here are this year's winners of the CBCA awards for children's books. I'd like to congratulate all the winners. I admit I've only read the Older Readers books, because I work in a secondary school and had no budget left to buy any of the others. However, I have heard of/read other works by some of the other writers - Isobelle Carmody, Michael Gerard Bauer, Leonie Norrington, Ursula Dubosarsky.

To be honest, I would have given the prize to either one of the older-reader Honour Books, if I'd had my druthers. Cath Crowley's book was a delightful piece of young adult fiction, gently funny and understanding of how teenagers think, while Doug MacLeod's was over-the-top black comedy. I asked my student Selena Wang how she would vote and her preferences were for these two books - and she has read all the books, but doesn't know, yet, what the results are; I asked for her vote before she went off to school camp. ;-)

Both books are, however, on this year's Victorian Premier's Awards short list and Graffiti Moon has already picked up some other awards, so at least they haven't gone unrecognised. And there's a People's Choice, so if you have read these books and think one should get a prize in the Premier's Awards, stroll across to the Wheeler Centre web site and vote.

One nice thing is that funny books are getting a look-in these days; I can remember being told, by one CBCA judge years ago, that funny books had no psychological depth!

Older readers:

Hartnett, Sonya
The Midnight Zoo
Viking Books, Penguin

Crowley, Cath
Graffiti Moon
Pan Macmillan Australia

MacLeod, Doug
The Life of a Teenage Body-Snatcher
Penguin Books

Younger Readers

Carmody, Isobelle
The Red Wind
Viking Books, Penguin Group (Australia)

Bauer, Michael Gerard
Just a Dog
Omnibus Books, Scholastic Australia

Branford, Anna
Illus: Davis, Sarah
Violet Mackerel's Brilliant Plot
Walker Books

Early Childhood

Ormerod, Jan
Illus: Blackwood, Freya
Maudie and Bear
Little Hare Books

Champion, Tom Niland & Niland, Kilmeny
Illus: Niland, Deborah
The Tall Man and the Twelve Babies
Allen & Unwin

Norrington, Leonie
Illus: Huxley, Dee
Look See, Look at Me
Allen & Unwin

Picture Book

Baker, Jeannie
Walker Books

Greenberg, Nicki
Allen & Unwin

Bancroft, Bronwyn
Why I Love Australia
Little Hare Books
Riddle, Tohby
My Uncle's Donkey
Viking Books, Penguin Group (Australia)

Eve Pownall (non-fiction)

Ursula Dubosarsky
Illus: Riddle, Tohby
The Return of the Word Spy
Viking Books, Penguin Group (Australia)

Brooks, Ron
Drawn From the Heart: A Memoir
Allen & Unwin

One Arm Point Remote Community School
Our World: Bardi Jaawi: Life at Ardiyooloon
Magabala Books

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Riley and the Grumpy Wombat: A Journey Around Melbourne. Text by Tania McCartney, art by Kieron Pratt. Clifton Hill: Ford Street Publishing, 2011

This latest publication from Ford Street Publishing is a picture book. Photos of Melbourne are mixed with delightful art by Kieron Pratt as the hero, accompanied by various critters, including a panda and a koala, flies his biplane around Melbourne's various landmarks in search of the Grumpy Wombat. Hmm, maybe this explains why I keep seeing biplanes flying overhead when I'm on St Kilda beach...

The idea of the picture book travelogue goes back a fair way, with such classics as Possum Magic, but it can never go stale.

It might be best suited to reading to younger children, so that you can do the gestures and have fun with the long words and silly gadgets Riley uses in his search.

I'll enjoy watching my nephew read it to his little boy.

Friday, August 12, 2011

More Phryne Fisher TV series stuff

The casting has been announced - Essie Davis as Miss Fisher. She is, in fact, the author's choice, and Kerry says that she also gets to vet the scripts, so that's a relief. So far, she's pleased with what they're doing to get 1928 right.

It sounds very exciting. I can't wait to see it. There's something quite wonderful about historic Melbourne. I was listening to a program on the ABC, "By Design", in which Alan Saunders and a guest were travelling around the CBD on a tram, discussing the buildings on the way. If you get a chance, and you're interested in Melbourne and architecture, go check out the podcast on the Radio National web site.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

More Hobbit movie excitement

I've finished my evening with a wander on to the Hobbit movie blog site - The Hobbit Blog - and can heartily recommend it. It's full of good stuff such as the video blogs of the production. Apparently Andy Serkis is now a second unit director as well as Gollum... and the bits with him doing Gollum shown in the blogs were ... preciousss... :-)

There were scenes in Bag End, with the Dwarves around the table having their unexpected party, and Rivendell, with Hugo Weaving as Elrond again. Not sure what Galadriel is doing there, even if she is Elrond's mother-in-law, since she wasn't in the book, but what-the-heck, Cate Blanchett is just gorgeous in the role, and that wonderful white gown trailing on the floor - "Just don't ask me to walk in it," she quips.

John Rhys-Davies popped in and assured them that they'd now go all over the world with women chasing them. "As long as you're in costume," adds Peter Jackson.

I really like that every single Dwarf is different and has his own personality and it shows. I found this picture of the Dwarves together - isn't it delicious? Just click into it to get it bigger. I may use it for a computer desktop.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

The CYL Comes To Sunshine College

A couple of weeks ago, I got a call from Adele Walsh, the new head honcho at the State Library's Centre for Youth Literature. For a number of reasons she explained to me, she was offering to bring the Teenage Booktalkers to us. Would we be interested?

Would we?!? I've taken my book club to the CYL for one Teen Booktalkers last year and to the youth day at Reading Matters this year, but this way ALL our kids could have the treat and no excursion forms to fill in or collect and no transport issues, just set up the library and welcome the guests. When I went to the evening session the night before, Paula Kelly, the head librarian, told me they were thinking of regionalising the youth days, taking the show to schools and letting other schools in the area come over instead of into town and this was going to be an experiment to see how it would work.

I chased up copies of the books The Comet Box, All I Ever Wanted and Five Parts Dead by the visiting authors and read them in a weekend - yes, all three of them! I got them processed and promoted, although by last Wednesday only one student was reading any of them (and loving it - the book was Five Parts Dead, the student Dylan). It didn't matter - after the talk, every last copy of all the books was checked out!

Wednesday morning, the first visitor, Adrian Stirling, arrived about 10.15 am as I was finishing my setup. We had a lot of students missing - an ESL excursion, that included half my tiny literacy class, the netball team, the Bridge-Building science team that included two of my book club members who would have loved to be there. So I'd invited a bunch of students from our Ardeer campus. I would also have invited students from another local school, but the teacher-librarian doesn't work on Wednesday and in the end, it was just as well, because we had a big audience for each of the two sessions and only just enough chairs for them all.

I got Adrian to use the remote control to bring the screen down - the computer was set up ready for the presentations, as it had been used the night before for a year 10 info evening and the principal kindly left it set up for me. Meanwhile I did the finishing touches elsewhere. I knew there would be an autograph session and thought it might work well to print out some book covers. Some of my book clubbers not on an excursion turned up offering to help. There wasn't much to do, it was all set up, but I introduced them and asked Dylan to set out the book covers on the autographing table, which he did.

The rest of our guests arrived soon after. Tim Pegler was last. Adele was there, with Christine - a lady I knew well from her time at The Little Bookroom - and a lady whose name I didn't know but who helped the speakers with their presentations and later booked a cab for Vikki Wakefield.

We started with the Year 9 and 10 students. Adele did the intros and the bribery that helped move the sessions along. She has been a teacher and is quite comfortable talking to kids - and bribing them to answer questions. :-) She'd brought along books left over from the conference and bits of CYL stuff, such as "Insideadog" tags, which she gave out for a good response from the audience. At one stage she was running low on the tags and I gave her some chocolate frogs, which were plenty good enough.

Adrian is also a teacher - he'd had to negotiate a day off work to come - so he had a good clear voice ands knew how to speak to teens. He explained where he'd got many of the ideas for his novel The Comet Box and his memories of the excitement people felt last time Halley's Comet came around. This is his second book; the earlier one, Broken Glass, had won a Notable. He spoke about that too.

Vikki Wakefield has a background in graphic art and had done character sheets before writing anything. She showed these in her presentation I did mean to ask her if the publisher might, perhaps, do a reprint with the illoes, which were very nice indeed, but the students had plenty of questions and they took priority, of course. She showed a picture of the street where she had lived as a child, if briefly, and of the huge dog that was the inspiration for Gargoyle, the scary mutt in All I Ever Wanted. There were quite a few elements that she'd based on her own memories.

Tim Pegler is a journalist who has turned to writing YA fiction. I really enjoyed Five Parts Dead and have bought my own copy of Game As Ned to read when I have five minutes off from teaching, library, review books, etc. He showed some photos from Kangaroo Island and the graveyard which had a rather sad grave set apart from the others that had given him his idea for Five Parts Dead. He also showed some of the articles he'd written as a journalist, including the one which he'd used as part of his inspiration, about a woman who had killed someone in an attempt to do an exorcism.

The students were highly entertained and there were plenty who went up to get autographs done in the middle of the session.

I'd ordered lunch from the canteen and we had it in the staffroom. After lunch came the Year 7 and 8 students, who also enjoyed the event. Adele very kindly left us a whole box of leftover books from the conference and Adrian donated copies of both his books to our library. The books are being processed and will be out in the library next week.

All in all, a successful event and I am most grateful to Adele for arranging it and the speakers for entertaining our students.