From Hook to Book

Archive for the category “Books”

Big Books, Little Books

One of the most exciting things for authors is always the arrival of a package bringing their latest book/s. Or shiny new author copies.

Barnyard Dance Big and Little

Book deliveries have been a bit thin on the ground at my place over the past couple of years while I’ve been fully focused on writing and redrafting two historical novels, which, as much as writing these longer length works is my passion these days, also means a lot longer between celebratory bubbles. So it was especially exciting before Christmas to receive a BIG book version (426mm x 315mm) of my title The Barnyard Dance from Gilt Edge Publishing in New Zealand.

One of the things that drew me to write for Gilt Edge were their books’ gorgeous full colour illustrations and cover designs, and that, for some series, they produce BIG books. A large version for teachers to utilise.

Barnyard Dance internal 815kb

I’ve always loved The Barnyard Dance because it’s a fun to read, rhyming story, beautifully illustrated by Richard Hoit. Now I think I love its BIG brother even more.

This post started out simply to herald a new book arriving – or new version – and the thrill of it, but it also led me to search out my other kid’s fiction titles and, taking a fresh peek, it’s pretty exciting to see how many of my educational titles have been re-published internationally in different versions and formats, including braille and audio. Some feature new covers/colours/designs, new titles or changes in spelling, and quite a few have been translated into French and sold into Canada.

Here’s a few pics of some of my titles that have travelled and changed, if you’d like to play Spot the Difference.

Runaway

MacTavish's Creature

Snozza

Trapped

The Keycutters Grandson

The Grand Street Theatre Robbery

The Beast

Tall Tales

Scar

Rollercoaster Ride

Karting Kel

Jono's Rescue

H for Horrible

Darcy Devlin

Dominic's Collections3

Dominic’s collections including a braille version

Batty Aus and US version

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Books for Mother Africa and PNG

Mother Africa donationI’m so excited to see some of my books taking a journey that I have long wanted to take myself.  All the way to Africa, and Papua New Guinea, thanks to the amazing efforts of author Tina Marie ClarkCYA Conference, and a fantastic band of helpers.

I was lucky (in a strange reversal of fortune) to be able to contribute a substantial number of my titles Blackheart Bilko and the Cape Barren Rats and Ghostgirl that I had purchased in a bulk lot when their trade publisher sold out to another only not their Aussie fiction titles. Sad faced at the time! 😦 But I’m happy now to think that these two books, which I love, will be read and, I trust, enjoyed by eager young readers in both Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, Africa and across Papua New Guinea, including Kokoda.)

Unloading books at WamiraTina and CYA Conference have been raising funds and collecting books and school supplies for The Mother Africa Trust (an organisation “created as a way for people to “give back” to both the environment and to the people of Zimbabwe.”) in Bulawayo Zimbabwe.  Now Tina and CYA are also collecting books for a fantastic new project. Milne Bay Mobile Libraries, PNG. This has included the creation of a library in Kokoda, to help students learn and practice English. If you would like to read more about the development of these projects on CYA’s news page or can assist in way with donations, please click here.

How cool to see my books reaching such far away, exotic places. How cool that so many authors, publishers, couriers and organisations are contributing to give and get books into the hands of readers. Makes me want to stow away with them!

Shattered Anzacs and Broken Promises

Mid-way through the year, I realise my pledge to read 52 books in this Year of Reading may have been a bit of an over-estimation on my part. Hey, I know what went wrong, I should have aimed for shorter books. All the ones I’m reading are hundreds of pages long. So from now on, I’m going to leave off the number of books I’m up to and just enjoy the reading.

I’m back into reading the era I’m about to write again for my new historical novel, set during and post WW1. I’m not usually one for war movies or books depicting the grit and gore of battles. My passion lies in the personal, emotional and psychological journeys of my characters, living through those times, but for me to understand how they think, feel and react I must read the books. Some are harsh; so is war. The more I read, the more I cannot believe that WW1 is not a key focus in our education system. Before I began researching four years ago, you could have grown crops of wheat to feed whole suburbs in the gaps in my knowledge. I still have so much to learn, as evidenced in my research trip, but I’m engrossed and passionate about the people and the time enough to set and write another historical saga in the same era as my previous novel. Plus I really need to write and learn more in order to understand what went on and what it was for.

Shattered Anzacs living with the scars of war by Marina Larsson

Historian and author Marina Larsson explores the impact of war disability on the lives of soldiers and those of their families upon their return from WW1. Larsson comprehensively details the effects and attitudes of society, the government, and real families utilising interviews with the offspring of returned soldiers of WW1. Larsson’s text is accessible and highly readable, despite the incredible breadth of her research. The text explores the effects of having a soldier living in the household with an ongoing disability, often a “nervy” and “changed” man. It further addresses the  financial and physical effects and impact on disabled WW1 returned soldiers’ employment prospects.  I highly recommend this excellent resource for anyone writing on the experience and legacy of war.

University of New South Wales Press, Sydney 2009

ISBN: 9781921410550

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

The strength of Birdsong is Faulk’s authentic battle scene descriptions and their shocking psychological effects on the men fighting. He takes you into the trenches and onto the battlefield. And he doesn’t let you escape a single moment of the unrelenting battle morning where tens of thousands went over top to be mown down, caught on the wire or tripped up in the bodies of their mates.  Events in the past are described in captivating detail – as if it’s happening now. The character progression of the main character, Stephen Wraysford, an initially selfish young man who seduces his host’s wife and whom appears to care about nothing and no one, is riveting. Alternating viewpoints enable a steady progression in Wraysford’s mental deterioration and those of his men.

I enjoyed “most” of Birdsong. Except for the modern day viewpoint of Wraysford’s grand-daughter, which to me added nothing to the story. The character Elizabeth discovers/reveals nothing that couldn’t have been shown in “real” story time. The writing in this section also dragged the reader out of the atmosphere of the story and read as pure telling. The book does tend to “tell” a lot but the power of the battlefields prose kept me turning the page. It is a searingly authentic look at what our male ancestors went through and why these men were never the same.

Random House

Epub ISBN: 9781407052564 (Vintage 1994)

A bookshop worth travelling for – the iconic Shakespeare and Company!

Stepping into one of the most iconic bookshops in the world is an almost holy moment, whether you’re religious or not. And a visit to Shakespeare and Company was one of my “must-dos” during my research trip to Paris.

Shakespeare and Company bookshop has existed in Paris in two forms; the first was opened by Sylvia Beach in 1919 and frequented by such masters as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Joyce and Ezra Pound. The shop closed in 1941 during the German Occupation after Beach refused to sell a book to a German Officer. He threatened to return and remove every book, but hours later, thanks to Sylvia’s friends, she had emptied the shop of every book, painted over the front, and closed the doors permanently. The second store came into existence after Beach’s death in 1964 when George Whitman renamed his “Le Mistral” bookshop, on rue de la Bûcherie, in her honour.

Whitman’s Shakespeare and Company, situated on the left bank opposite Notre Dame, also became an iconic cultural institution as bookstore, lending library and home to writers and poets, both published and not. Today, Shakespeare and Company is run by Sylvia Beach Whitman, George Whitman’s daughter, who maintains his creed allowing writers to live-in, read and write,  in exchange for a couple of hours help a day in the shop. (George died only recently in December 2011 aged 98.)

Books of every genre and description cram the floor-to-ceiling shelves and cluttered corners. Stacks of books line the staircase leading upstairs to the reading room and lending library – available to the public to read – including thousands of hardback biographies and histories.

Time poor, I didn’t get to attend a weekly reading or any of the frequent workshops or writers’ meetings. It was enough to climb the narrow stairs to the tiny room available free to writing/reading groups and imagine myself with hours to spend sitting reading and absorbing the spirit of the great writers who’ve also visited such as Anais Nin and Henry Miller. I could so imagine curling up, notebook and pen in hand, writing in this space. Sigh!

The shop sells mainly literary and contemporary fiction, both new and used books, and offers an incredible selection of mostly English print books. (Though they do sell some Russian, Spanish, German and Italian.) I picked up several, restricted sadly by the weight limit of an internal flight, including George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London and Fitch’s Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation (A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties – both which I can’t wait to read. Especially since I plan to set a small part of my WIP in this era and these settings. Both books promise  birds’ eye views to put me in the mood and mindset of the day. Books like these are gifts to writers who can revisit the place but not capture the minutiae of  moments so long past.

Another small book I bought and love is The War Poets, an anthology of poems from both World War One and Two featuring works by Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen and W.B. Yeats. (Pitkin Publishing 2009) Already I’m a fan of Sassoon, particularly the sincerity in the images conjured in his Died of Wounds and the reality of the last line. I hope you’ll love it too.

Died of Wounds

His wet white face and miserable eyes
Brought nurses to him more than groans and sighs:
But hoarse and low and rapid rose and fell
His troubled voice: he did the business well.

The ward grew dark; but he was still complaining
And calling out for ‘Dickie’. ‘Curse the Wood!
It’s time to go. O Christ, and what’s the good?
‘We’ll never take it, and it’s always raining.’

I wondered where he’d been; then heard him shout,
‘They snipe like hell! O Dickie, don’t go out’ …
I fell asleep … Next morning he was dead;
And some Slight Wound lay smiling on the bed.

Siegfried Sassoon

In these days of too many independent bookshops closing, it was a joy to visit this thriving icon. We have no such delight located near to where I live, but if you have one of those rare gems in your neighbourhood that you can recommend, I’m prepared to travel. Just leave a few details or why you love your local bookshop in the comments. 

Newsflash: If you’re into writing novellas, Shakespeare and Company run The Paris Literary Prize an international novella competition, open to unpublished writers and offering a substantial €10,000 prize.

The Dressmaker

The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham is said to be a gothic novel. I’m not sure what that means but I did enjoy this rather uncomfortable read. I loved Tilly, the main character, and her calm acceptance and way with her nutty mother. Some truly torrid and horrid characters live within the pages who left me desperate on seeing their comeuppance. The Dressmaker is a dark tale of the clique, small-mindedness of some small country towns and a fascinating look behind closed doors of what I hope were some exaggerated personalities.

When Tilly Dunnage returns to Dungatar and her “mad old” mother, the locals maintain the rage that banished Tilly decades earlier. They think nothing of using her skills as a talented dressmaker though and for a time it seems Tilly may have been accepted back into the fold. Deliciously wicked, but I’m not so sure the ending was entirely credible. I recommend The Dressmaker as a good read that never lets you get complacent and keeps you reading with some excellent, sometimes heartbreaking, plot twists.

Book 9

The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham 2000

Duffy & Snellgrove ISBN: 1875989706

Year of Wonders

How do I talk about a book without gushing adjectives when my cheeks are glowing with writerly admiration and, in equal, turning green with writer envy?  A hard call when I’ve just read what’s now up there as one of my favourite books ever.

Geraldine Brooks Year of Wonders is an historical fiction tale, based on a true story, of a Derbyshire village who elect to quarantine themselves and their plague in the Spring of 1666 and spend a year cut off from the world. The writing is beautiful prose and evokes a strong sense of authenticity.  For me, it’s a page turner that reached a very satisfying twist of an ending. However, I do need to add that I (along with others, it seems on Goodreads) did qualm  over the epilogue, which took the story out of the world of the village to a happily ever after that I was not sure could or would have been possible for such a young, ignorant, unworldly girl of the day.  However, I deeply admired the writing, the storytelling and the wonderful drawing together of the plot threads to a powerful and unexpected resolution that I won’t spoil here by telling. The voice captivated me and I found the book in my hands at every opportunity for the two days it took to read it. A “must read” for anyone who loves history and place.

Book 8

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks 2008

Harper Perennial  ISBN: 978 1 84115 458 9

Some books do, Some books don’t

And when they don’t do it for you, do you keep reading? I do. But… Life is short. Too short to persist sometimes. Back into the year and the weeks are zinging past. I’m already beginning to panic over my challenge to read a book a week. I can see these mini review blogs will become more sporadic and more often lists, but for now, I’ll keep commenting on the books I am reading. The last one though saw me page skimming by the last quarter – and only in fairness to the challenge did I keep reading at all. Not sure I’m going to persist with books that “don’t” do it for me in future. So many books, so little time.

Week 3 Book 3

Once again this January, I participated in Month of Poetry hosted by the wonderful poet and organiser Kathryn Apel. In lazy holiday mode, I wasn’t sure I could live up to the promise of the Post a Day poets, so I registered for the Occasional Poetry pages. I thought for awhile that I fell a bit short in not writing a poem a day, but I was really pleased to finish the month with seventeen completed poems. Of course, they all need much refining, but I think a couple of them show actual promise.

Some days the words and ideas just flowed, others I needed a little prompting. Plus I wanted to get stuck into some poetry basics. So I read and worked through some of the exercises in Creating Poetry by Ron Pretty. I recommend this book for all beginner poets to learn forms, sound patterning, imagery and metaphor in poetry, and to tackle some inspiring exercises that act as great, creative launch pads. The book is totally accessible and highly readable, and inspired a couple of my favourite poems from the Month of Poetry.

Creating Poetry by Ron Pretty (Revised Edition) Five Islands Press (1987) 2001

Week 4 Book 4

Bestseller A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle was first published in 1989 and is the non-fiction account of the twelve months from when British expat Mayle and his wife moved into their impulse, holiday purchase to one year and many gastronomic delights later. Mayle details the four seasons, the antics and exhorts of their new neighbours, crossing the cultural divide, some humorous uninvited visitors, along with descriptions of the etiquette and elongation of French tradesman renovating their house. The detailed description that won me in the early pages, where I vicariously enjoyed the laid back lifestyle of French provincial life, tended to wear on me and turn repetitive by mid to late in the book. I know it was non-fiction, not fiction with a rising tension, but after charting a few unhurried months, I’m afraid each began to bleed into the next. Towards the end I found myself skimming pages.

I doubt the Provence of the late 80s, when Mayle first settled there, and the Provence of today are much similar, but I still hope to find some of those homey French cafes in small villages and some of the delightful French characters that pepper his book when I drop by. A tad elongated a read for me but it should grab those wishing to visit or relocate to Provence.

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle Penguin Books 1980 ISBN 9780141037257


A “Must Read” YA

Year of Reading: Week 2 Book 2

One book in particular has been crying out to be read from my TBR pile for twelve months. I’ve held off, but with the dread that someone or a casual word somewhere would give away the ending of a story and book that has come so highly recommended.

At last I’ve finally had the chance to read Six, Karen Tayleur’s brilliantly tense and riveting YA coming-of-age story.

One car

Five seatbelts

Six people

This out-take from the prologue, alongside the four line story rhyme introduction (each chapter features) There were six in the bed, and the little one said, ‘Roll over, roll over’ So they all rolled over and one fell out…suggested to me that only one character survives the car crash so hauntingly shown in aftermath within the prologue.

The tension builds as you come to know each of the six main characters, shown through both first and third-person viewpoints, and fret over who may or may not survive. I’m not giving anything away, except to say I was shocked and that the ending is inspired, brilliant, inescapable.

Six – a fantastic read, and read again book. Highly recommended.

Six – Karen Tayleur Published by Black Dog Books 2010       ISBN: 978 – 174203155 – 2

What I am Reading

Words to transport me across generations, centuries, continents and viewpoints – such is the mastery of writer Arnold Zable in his acclaimed memoir Jewels and Ashes.

What began as a “case study” for my Master’s exegesis – too dry a term by far for this riveting narrative and beautifully told story – became a lesson in the art of traversing narrative time. I chose Zable’s work because I’ve long admired him and his writing and have attended various of his talks and his inspirational Painting with Words workshop. (You know how every now and again you get that feeling your writing has upped a level, well, I believe this workshop prompted one of those shifts. But, I digress.)

With my next novel unstarted, at the time, but swirling in my mind, I wanted to write my exegesis to inform on an aspect of its writing. I can already see the structure of my new novel forming as a complex narrative where I plan to show three characters’ viewpoints and visit them in different time spans, on different continents and be able to crisscross between them all. Hence my exegesis topic: Traversing Narrative Time, Space and Viewpoint. Part of the reflective practice in my uni subject’s title is to look to the masters to see how they’ve achieved such techniques. Zable was my first choice, though I also studied Gabriel Garcia Marquez who is the master Zable says he studied to learn his artistry of transitions.

Jewels and Ashes traces the author’s pilgrimage to the birthplace of his Jewish parents, (in Bialystok, Poland), crisscrossing the decades of the twentieth century to uncover the truth and fate of his extended family. When I first read the book several years ago, I marvelled at how Zable showed history while weaving his family background around his 1986 journey to Poland, but I didn’t really understand what he was doing craftwise, how he was doing it or why. I just knew whatever he was doing transported me on one amazing journey. Mind you the way Zable paints his words in such rich detail and description transports you with seamless ease too.

Of course, I’ve read many novels featuring multiple viewpoints, time and places, but I’d always been keenly aware of the transitions from one to the next. Some jolt you out of the story with a clunk, or shifts only occur at the end of chapters or storybreaks, whereas Zable weaves into the next event, place, time with seamless transitions, be they in mid-sentence or mid-paragraph.

How does he do it?

Through my study of Jewels and Ashes, and Arnold’s own explanation of his technique, I understand him to effect many of his transitions by connecting story fragments or threads using subtle and well placed links. Closer study of the text reveals these to be both tangible and intangible associations, such as events, trees, photographs and letters, and/or sensory connections, such as memories, smells and sounds. For the purpose of my exegesis I extracted the examples below to demonstrate:

  • Decades later,… (p. 8 ) a simple flashforward (prolepsis)
  • We leap through the centuries (p. 46) transition bringing narrative forward two-hundred years
  • As a child I would often gaze at his portrait in the Bialystok photo album… (p. 46) transition back through flashback (analepsis)
  • Father has now warmed to the subject. He draws me with him to Nieronies Lane. (p. 76) transition of place
  • Years later, when Mother fell on a Melbourne street, the memory of another fall, in a time and place far removed, came flooding back. (p. 88) incident as link to another time
  • At 4 a.m. on summer mornings, throughout the twenties… (p. 93) connects one paragraph later through the link of season to On a summer morning in 1986…
  • Above all, Father recalls the seasons (p.139) a memory and seasonal transition of time and place.

Arnold Zable is not only a wonderful storyteller, but a generous humanitarian, and I was lucky enough on two chance occasions during the writing of my exegesis to have opportunity to speak to him and ask him about his practice when writing his memoir. Arnold told me he did not plot the narrative of Jewels and Ashes, but followed his physical journey and allowed the threads of the greater story to emerge instinctively. However organically these evolved, the chronological discontinuity and disruption of story serve to build a sense of mounting dread even in a fact-based narrative where the reader knows the holocaust history:

‘At Linowe station the trains were drawn up by the platform, waiting. The time-tabling was precise, the organisation efficient. The doors of the cattle wagons slid to a close on entire families, crammed together, robbed of light, air and hope. Soon after they were on the move: a journey of several hundred kilometres southwest, across the breadth of Poland, to a town called Auschwitz’ (p.137).

The switch to a new focus in the next paragraph serves to discontinue the narrative and heighten tension even with foreknowledge of the horror coming.

This post offers only a glimpse of one of the multiple narrative devices available to traverse time, space and viewpoint to best dramatic and emotional effect. Regardless of whether you’re interested in the writing craft, I urge you to read Jewels and Ashes. You’re in for a treat, a harsh history beautifully told and one that must never pass out of memory. Honour goes to Zable and all those it recalls.

It is so true what they say about  the value of reading as a writer and what you can learn. Though I’ve never studied a topic quite so intently (or academically) before, and found the initial drafting of my exegesis extremely challenging, I can honestly say what I’ve learned is invaluable. If I can begin the writing of my new novel and in some small way emulate the beauty of the transitions of Arnold Zable in his writing, I’ll  be thrilled. What once seemed impossible, now seems achievable.

I hope this post excites the idea of some ‘narrative’ time travel in your writing. If so, I’d love you to let me know or leave any thoughts you’d like to add in the comments.

Bookaholics Both

An exciting week. My travelling daughter has returned, proudly boasting her suitcase was well under the limit. I’m not surprised, considering her bedroom carpet has slowly disappeared in the months of her absence as a steady stream of packages, parcels, post packs and boxes arrived home ahead of her full of books. Until… I had to plead, no more. Our house cannot house any more books. Unless…

She said it first, that dreaded word – Cull.

Followed by grimaces and groans from us both. But it had to be done. And my Sal has grown harsh in her absence. She wouldn’t let her mother peruse the piles she set aside for the op shop. “For your own good,” she admonished.

Yes, I know she’s right. She’s much better at the culling business than I. Then again, she buys more books than me. When she sorts her discards, I gather the little orphans to me and can never help adopting some. In short time, her piles dwindle and my bookcase creaks and cringes housing its newest residents.

This time, weak with the joy of her return, I accepted her decree. Kindly, she set aside a select few she knew I’d appreciate and want, but the rest went into bags without a second look, but several disconcerted walk pasts by me.

But no. They’re gone. And I’ve been brave.

My turn next. As soon as uni ends, I have to sort. My bookcase is now into double stacking and I know it’s time for me to send some less loved out into the world for others to enjoy. Does it make me a bad mother that it’s nearly as hard for me to let go of books, as waving off my tenacious travelling offspring? (Just kidding really. So thrilled to have my gorgeous chick returned to the nest. Until the next time that is.)

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