Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Inkys

So the Inkys are over for another year, after setting a new record for the most votes. And after a very close race, the Golden Inky was awarded to Where the Streets Had a Name, by Randa Abdel-Fattah, while the Silver Inky went to The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, which beat out some stiff competition, not least of all Exposure by Mal Peet, Paper Towns by John Green, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

My book Town won the Golden Inky last year, and the most gratifying thing about winning this prize was that it is voted for by teenage readers. And while good reviews are great, being affirmed by the audience for which one writes is even better. At risk of sounding corny, it's what makes us keep doing it.

It's also wonderful to see an organisation like the Centre for Youth Literature generating such interest amongst teen readers. I remember fondly one of my fellow judges, Steph Bowe (who was fifteen at the time) taking issue with someone in the audience at the NSW Writers Centre Writing for Children Conference, when this person attested that 'young people aren't reading anymore'. Steph turned around and publicly put her straight. And the ongoing success of the Inkys supports the view that young people are reading, and doing so in a discerning way.

(For Facebook Notes readers: this post is redirected from my 'head vs desk' blog at

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Tolkien the fan-fiction writer

A question, from WikiAnswers: "Where did Tolkien get the story of The Hobbit from?"

Perhaps the person who asked this question had heard that Elvish was in many respects derived from Finnish, and assumed that folklore lent itself to Tolkien's book. And in fact Beowulf is considered to have been something of an influence. There is no such thing as a new idea, really. Heck, Romeo and Juliet is just an earlier rip-off of Titanic.

But to the cynic in me, it seems to me that implicit in the above question is the idea that Tolkien lifted the idea from someone else, in much the same way various writers are now releasing books about vampires and swooning girls, or about wizard academies. (And we shouldn't forget that Stephenie Meyer owes a huge debt to Bram Stoker, and Rowling a similarly large debt to Ursula le Guin.)

Has fan-fiction and wholesale idea-poaching now become such a part of our literary landscape that we assume a great, ground-breaking and iconic work of fiction to have been pinched?

Or am I reading too much into this? I have been known to do this from time to time...

(For Facebook Notes readers: this post is redirected from my 'head vs desk' blog at

Monday, November 16, 2009

'Brown Skin Blue' by Belinda Jeffrey


This isn't Belinda Jeffrey's first book, but it is her first published novel. And it's wonderful. It's assured, it's gripping, and in Barry Mundy it's got a character I ached for.

A lot of characters in young adult fiction are misfits. It's a common place to start for the YA writer, and for very good reason. Adolescence is tough. Teenagers seem to enjoy feeling bereft and angsty. So that's what we do to them in our novels. It makes the characters relatable.

But so often protagonists in YA novels aren't satisfied with internalised angst. Oh no, they whine. They whine and they whinge. They complain about their parents, their siblings, their schools, their teachers, their towns, their lack of prospects, their goddamn friends. And it gets so freaking boring. How do I know this? I could hold up several of my own books as Evidence for the Crown.

Barry doesn't do this. His life isn't perfect – his childhood hasn't been by a very long shot – but I don't think I felt a single shudder of self pity in his story. He's got a lot of serious shit to get through, but he doesn't wallow. He gets angry, sure, and he feels confused and lost for words, but at no point does he ask the reader to feel sorry for him. It's very refreshing.

But more than that is the language in this book, both in terms of the dialogue – the Top End Strine is pitch-perfect – but also the narrative voice. One review of this book described this book as having a 'sureness of touch'. I think that's something of an understatement.

The other thing I really admired about this book is the way the author managed to resist the urge to make it another 'issues' book. There are so many issues she could have latched onto: race, environment, a myriad of other matters of social conscience. But she allows these to colour the story (sorry, no pun on the title intended) rather than dominate it. It's a very impressive bit of writing.

(Brown Skin Blue is published by UQP.)

(For Facebook Notes readers: this post is redirected from my 'head vs desk' blog at

Friday, November 13, 2009

A week in the bush

As I write this, I'm sitting in McDonald's, Parkes, enjoying their free Wi-Fi, which gives me an opportunity to reflect on the last week or so.

I've just spent the lat three days at Lake Cargelligo Central School. 'Lake', as it's known locally, is a town of 1,300 (give or take) a couple of hours west of Parkes.

Lake is tired. Everywhere around Lake is tired. The lake that the town is named for has shrunken, the foreshore now a hundred metres or so away from where the boatramp ends. The streets are dusty, the silos empty, and the people seemingly resigned. They're harvesting at the moment. Or to be more accurate, those who have crops to harvest are harvesting. Some aren't even bothering. They're talking in very small numbers – one to two bags per acre. I'm not sure how big a bag actually is, but Matthew from Year 7 told me that his dad is currently driving grain trucks at Coonamble, a few hours up the road, where they're getting twelve to fourteen bags per acre. Last night on Prime, the news talked about the record harvest in Coonamble. They had shots of locals drinking up in the pub, smiling, grinning, celebrating. They got rain just at the right time.

I ate at one of the two Lake pubs most evenings. No one was celebrating in those pubs. One evening it rained, and the small number of locals who bothered to go outside to have a look didn't seem all that surprised to see that the shower lasted for a full fifteen minutes, then slunk away.

The kids at Lake Cargelligo Central School are like country kids everywhere. They're easy to engage, but difficult to get a response from. And you only have to strike up a conversation with their elders to know why this is. They don't need to impress anyone. And as a result, they aren't easily impressed. They just are.

The other things these kids are is older and wiser than their city cousins. I had to remind myself several times that I was speaking to Year 7s and 8s, not 9s and 10s. The teachers tell me of how overwhelmed these kids are when they go to the city for excursions. But I can't imagine there's much else that overwhelms them. Not when boys and girls in Year 6 and 7 tell me very matter-of-factly about going piggin' with their pig-dogs, or fishing for 60cm carp with a compound bow.

I love getting out on the road, and opening up the throttle a bit, both literally and metaphorically. I do love the bush. I was born in Trundle, which is about 45 minutes west of where I now sit.

I dropped in at Trundle other day. It felt familiar, but not like home. And when I introduced myself to the kids from Lake, I was very clear: I was born around here, but I'm not from around here. To make that claim would be to devalue the uniqueness of their growing-up experience. And that's the last thing I want to do.

(If you're reading this via Facebook Notes: this post is redirected from my 'head vs desk' blog.)

Monday, November 9, 2009

"This is why you're fat."

I keep getting spam (at least I hope they're spam) emails, with this as their subject line.

I don't need to be told. I know the reasons: they're twofold, and they're very clear.

1. I like food.

2. I dislike exercise.

As they say in the classics, "You do the math."

(If you're reading this via Facebook Notes: this post is redirected from my 'head vs desk' blog.)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The AJ cover flat

(click on it for a better look)

(If you're reading this via Facebook Notes: this post is redirected from my 'head vs desk' blog.)

The first Anonymity Jones review

By Denise Muir, Head of English Domain, Upper Yarra Secondary College.

Anonymity’s life is unravelling, like the seam of “...the cricket ball she once found under the azalea bush...and she’d found the end, picked at it, and began to unwind it.”

Her life seems to be going nowhere, her home life, her friends and the relationship she once valued with her art teacher. Her life seems to be in a continuous loop, but unlike the neighbour’s dog her yelps and wails are ignored. The novel explores her strength in dealing with the hardships in her life. It explores her insight into what is right and wrong and the courage to make her own mark in life. Anonymity stays true to herself and takes control rather than becoming an anonymous bystander as her name suggests. Beautifully written with a mix of wit and humour it is honest and gritty, whilst at the same time sensitive and insightful. It is refreshing to read a book with such a strong female protagonist and that deals with confronting issues openly and realistically. This is definitely a book that older teenagers will relate to and will want to read in one sitting, as I did. I would recommend this novel for mature teenage readers (Year 10) as it requires a maturity to understand the complexities of the issues being explored and their consequences.

(If you're reading this via Facebook Notes: this post is redirected from my 'head vs desk' blog.)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Names changed to protect the bloody rude.

Today Vicki and I went into Sydney for a meeting. And around lunchtime, we went for a walk. And we went to a book store.

It's a crowded little independent store, full of all the usual kinds of books – literary, trash, non-fiction, travel, cookery, all the usual. And a children's section, which featured a fair range of kids books. In a number of cases, they had four or five copies of books that you might not ordinarily expect to find in multiple numbers.

I've had a lot more joy lately finding my books in stores (even the chains), so I thought it might be safe to look for my titles. I didn't expect to find the entire backlist , just a couple, perhaps. I'm not greedy, but I do think that selling books is somewhat reliant on bookstores stocking them.

There weren't any. Not one. Since this is nothing particularly new, I thought I'd go and talk to the lady who owned the place, and introduce myself. Most booksellers really like it when authors do this. It creates an oft-missing connection between the author and the person who sells the book to the person for whom the book is written. It's not an exercise in ego – it's an exercise in mutual benefit.

'Hi,' I said. 'I'm wondering if you have any copies of Edsel Grizzler, by James Roy?'
'No,' she said, without even looking it up on her computer. 'We don't have it.'
'I see. Have you ever had it...? You sold out, perhaps? Because I wrote it, you see, and I like to check the shelves of local---'
'No, we've never had it. Who published it?'
'Right. No, I don't have it.'
'Well, it was featured in a double-page spread the Sun Herald a few weeks ago, so it's quite possible that someone who read that piece might come in looking for that specific book.'
'Look,' she said, 'I've only got thirty-eight square metres of space in this store, and I have a lot of books to shelve, but I can't be expected to stock everything that's published.'

At this point, she turned away to cut some ribbon for the books she was gift-wrapping for a rather embarrassed-looking customer. Conversation over.

I couldn't resist a parting shot. 'Well, you seem to have multiple copies of a lot of books by other children's writers, so I'm sure you could find space for one of mine. Thank you.'

The fact is, I always expect to find none of my books in bookshops. It's safer that way – it can avoid real disappointment. And I also assume that the owner has never heard of me, or any of my books. And I'm sad to say, this woman confirmed my assumption. But I have to wonder, would she have been as dismissive – no, let's say it the way it was – rude to a buying customer? I very much doubt it.

An author/illustrator friend had a similar experience himself recently, when he went into another independent store not that far from where we were today, and asked for his book by name (without mentioning that he was the author). While the young shop assistant was looking up the title, her boss asked my friend, 'Are you going to order it in if we don't have it?'

'Probably not today,' my friend said.

At this, the boss turned to his employee and said, 'Stop. Stop looking. If they're not going to order the book, don't search past the title.'

Good to see that customer service is alive and well. I've had better service in the big, impersonal chains, and that's really saying something.

Oh, and by the way, Lady from ******* Bookshop, if you find a pile of books in the entirely wrong section of your store, they're the $200 worth of books we were planning to buy, but ended up putting down. Sorry, couldn't do it.

(If you're reading this via Facebook Notes: this post is redirected from my 'head vs desk' blog.)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

How bizarre

I ring a friend, whose name is John, and whose wife's name is Jackie.

"Hi, Jackie, this is James," I say.
"James Roy."
"Is John there?"
"I think you've got the wrong Jackie."
"Oh. Oh!"

After I hang up, I check the number I dialed. The fifth digit was wrong - an 8 instead of a 6. What are the chances, that I would get one of eight digits wrong, and get someone whose name is the same as the person I'm trying to call?

PS: I know someone will give me some guff about it being not as statistically improbable as it seems (SKR, I'm looking at you) but I was still surprised.

(If you're reading this via Facebook Notes: this post is redirected from my 'head vs desk' blog.)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Anonymity Jones bound proof

It's been a while coming, but here it is – the uncorrected bound proof of Anonymity Jones, from Woolshed Press (Feb 2010). Woo!ˆ–
(If you're reading this via Facebook Notes: this post is redirected from my '
head vs desk' blog.)

Oh dear...

Imagine this. You're a Baptist pastor, and you're about to give a sermon. You peek out from backstage. You see a lot of youth in the congregation. Except to you, it's not a congregation – it's an audience. Because you're more than just a pastor - you're a comedian. You're funny. Young people love your sermons, especially when they're "bits". Mostly you kill, you very rarely die.

So you think, What could be funnier than saying that I'm a normal kinda guy who finds normal kinda things funny, like ... say, midgets. Little people. The 'vertically challenged'. And even though I know it's not OK to publicly humiliate them, I might say it anyway, and add that even though I know it's not OK, it's just beyond hilarious. I mean, what are the chances there'll be one of these hysterically amusing so-called 'people' in the audience anyway?

Mmm. Guess what?

Pastor X, your slice of humble pie is ready to be picked up from the servery.

(If you're reading this via Facebook Notes: this post is redirected from my 'head vs desk' blog.)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Something for stressed-out HSC students to remember

I recently received an email from a lady whom I shall call Jill... mainly because her name is Jill. Her son was in the same guitar-making course as my dad, and she contacted me to let me know that her mother had said to say hi to me.

Let's go back a bit. When I was a wee lad of four or five, we were living in Papua New Guinea, on a mission college campus. I loved books. We had a lot of books in our house. I loved stories. My parents read me a lot of stories. And Mrs Palmer, who lived close by, had a lot of books, and story records. You know, dramatised stories, mostly riffing on Christian themes (being nice to people, being honest, sharing your toys, honouring your parents, washing your hands before dinner, all that kind of good gear). And I used to sneak away without asking permission and tell Mrs Palmer that my mummy had said it was OK for me to come and listen to her records. (Spot the irony?)

I recall Mum would occasionally get frustrated that she'd have to come and get me (she always knew where I was, at least), and no doubt she felt obliged to apologise to Mrs Palmer for having to accomodate her wandering lad, but I don't remember her ever getting angry about it. Maybe she knew that I was happily up to my eyeballs in that wonderful story-world, and it wouldn't have made much difference if she had kicked my tail about it anyway.

In her email, Jill calls me a 'dreamy little kid'. In my Grade 1 school report it says a similar thing: 'James would do better in school if he could stop daydreaming'. Maybe. But school ain't everything.

Good luck to all those kids doing their HSC exams this fortnight, but try not to let the stress get on top of you.
(If you're reading this via Facebook Notes: this post is redirected from my 'head vs desk' blog.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Things that make me want to give it away

I read this last night (in the bath, as it happens), and it struck me as a stroke of pure storytelling genius.

The slippers are made to last one day – this day. They're folded out of varnished paper, with a twinkle in it. We had to go all the way to the markets at the Crossways to find a paperbinder who did shoes the old way with no glue, just sheer skill of folding and knowledge of a girl's own foot and a girl's own walk holding the creation together.
(From Black Juice, by Margo Lanagan, Allen and Unwin, 2004)

Without wanting to sound fawning, Margo is one of those writers, like Sonya Hartnett, who makes the rest of us consider turning off the computer, or hanging up the quill.

But isn't that gorgeous? Only a true master of their craft could, in one paragraph – a mere 68 words – create such a perfect snapshot of a fantasy world. And by world, of course I include the cultural aspects of that place. These paper bridal slippers fuse something that we recognise and something other-worldly at once.

If you – and Margo – will indulge me one more quote, this is from another part of the same book, and is speaking about death:

Tonight it's come for my nan, and it gathers her up out of the thing that was her self, up out of her own bones into its dark, dirty, soft, soft breast, unfisting her hands from the front of her nightshirt, laying down her remains, moving her on from us like a storm cloud dragging its rain.

It's the 'unfisting her hands from the front of her nightshirt' that really wins me. That's so much more powerful than the oft-trotted-out idea that death is just a falling asleep, rather than something we resist at the core of our being. It's good – no, it's great – stuff.

(If you're reading this via Facebook Notes: this post is redirected from my 'head vs desk' blog.)

Monday, October 19, 2009

The self-righteous git... me, because I'm about to copy and paste something I saw on the Book of Faces...

The Cold Side of the Pillow is colder than normal do to being in the freezer all day.

What the heckfire is a 'colder than normal do'? A winter hairstyle sans beanie?

That is all.
(If you're reading this via Facebook Notes: this post is redirected from my 'head vs desk' blog.)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sound like a John Green novel?

by Donald Fagen
(from The Nightfly)

Some say that we're reckless
They say we're much too young
Tell us to stop before we've begun
We've got to hold out till graduation
Try to hang on Maxine

While the world is sleeping
We meet at Lincoln Mall
Talk about life the meaning of it all
Try to make sense of the suburban sprawl
Try to hang on Maxine

Mexico City is like another world
Nice this year they say
You'll be my senorita
In jeans and pearls
But first let's get off this highway

We'll move up to Manhattan
And fill the place with friends
Drive to the coast and drive right back again
One day we'll wake up, make love but 'til then
Try to hang on Maxine

(If you're reading this via Facebook Notes: this post is redirected from my 'head vs desk' blog.)

Friday, October 9, 2009

I think I know how this happened.

Someone legal at Cityrail sent a memo to the Client Safety Office, stating that warning signs should be painted on platforms across the entire Sydney rail network. Perhaps the memo read something like this:

These warning signs should be clear, concise, and leave no margin for ambiguity. We suggest they read "SURFACE MAY BE SLIPPERY WHEN WET".

This memo was cut and pasted into a contract requisition to Signs-R-Us, who sent an order to their stencil-makers, who made dozens of stencils. These were then sent out to station-masters across the network, who dutifully flopped the stencils on the ground, got out their supplied cans of yellow paint, and sprayed the signs, complete with the unnecessary quotation marks. Thus:
I catch a lot of trains. This is going to be a disproportionately huge annoyance for me. Srsly.

(If you're reading this via Facebook Notes: this post is redirected from my 'head vs desk' blog.)

The Inkys shortlist - go vote!

Online judging for the Inkys awards is now open. And the shortlists are...

Golden Inky (Australian books)
Broken Glass – Adrian Stirling
Where the Streets Had a Name – Rand Abdel-Fattah
Jarvis 24 – David Metzenthen
Worldshaker – Richard Harland
Everything Beautiful – Simmone Howell

Silver Inky (International books)
Exposure – Mal Peet
Skim – Mariko and Jillian Tamaki
Paper Towns – John Green
Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian – Sherman
The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

I have my two preferred winners, but as a shortlist judge, I'm somewhat hamstrung in my ability to name them publicly. But you can! Go here to vote:

(If you're reading this via Facebook Notes: this post is redirected from my 'head vs desk' blog.)

My new baby...

...which I'm yet to pick up.

That's my dad, making me a guitar. Sitka spruce top, myrtle back and sides, mahogany neck. It's all strung up and ready to play, but I haven't got it yet. Soon, very soon...

If you're reading this via Facebook Notes: this post is redirected from my 'head vs desk' blog.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Writing Quote XI

Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.
(Cyril Connolly)

Of course, what most of us aspire to be is the writer Cyril Connolly doesn't mention – the one who can write for themselves and for the public. But take a stroll around most bookshops, and it becomes pretty obvious that quality and popular are often poles apart.

In my school author talk, I always grab any opportunity to have a bit of a fun dig at the Twilight phenomenon. Yes, yes, I know that many young people who might never have picked up a book are reading Stephenie Meyer. We heard the same thing with Harry Potter. And this dig of which I speak (good-natured though it be) is often thrown back at me – usually by incensed teenaged girls – as professional envy. And sometimes the lines between that accusation and the truth can become blurry.

It would be very easy to be glib about this. 'I know money and success won't make me happy, but I wouldn't mind a chance to prove that theory for myself.' But the truth is, the uber-success of the Meyers and the Rowlings is what it is. As writers in a competetive marketplace, we choose to handle it the best way we can, which in my case is to remind myself that I am living my dream.

Recently a good friend (also a writer) had to remind me that negativity is infectious, and poisonous. And he's right. It's been the biggest single challenge of my writing career. And saying that I have no public is stretching things a little. I don't sell in vast quantities, but I sell. My books are in stores. I have some public. But I also know that I write for myself, and that's as important as anything else.

(If you're reading this via Facebook Notes: this post is redirected from my head vs desk blog.)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Nursing Registration

In exactly six weeks, my registration with the Nurses and Midwives Board of NSW expires. It's been almost a year since I did my last shift, and I am no longer in the employ of any of the fine health-provision facilities whose halls I once strode. I've handed in my ID tags, my sensible shoes and all the pairs of surgical scissors I borrowed from the treatment room over the years. I've forgotten how to read an ECG, I couldn't cannulate a garden hose with a power drill, and I giggle when I hear someone use the word "infarct". So I'm not a registered nurse any more. Except that I am. While ever I am still RN11***09, I can hypothetically bail this writing caper and seek re-employment in the children's ward or emergency department of my choice.

My wife has made it very clear that even if I did need to seek other employment, she would fight tooth and nail to prevent me going back to the life of an under-paid, over-worked, under-valued shift-working registered nurse. Because it made me a far less pleasant person to be married, she tells me. To which I nod, and say, "Never mind being married to it – living it was bad enough."

I became a full-time writer quite some time ago. That is to say, I stopped being a registered nurse who liked to write, and who had a couple of published books to his name, and became a writer who occasionally worked a casual shift in an emergency department. Something changed in the way I approached my writing. I guess the short version is, I became more professional about it. It felt good.

So now I sit here, with my Renewal of Registration form on my desk before me, and I'm not going to renew it. I'm not. And it's not just the $95. In fact, that's not it at all. This is a symbolic thing. Once I drop that form into the recycling, I'm on my own. I'm a writer, and only a writer. And it feels great.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

An Eve Pownall shortlister for 2010?

Spotted in a surgery waiting room.

Brisbane Writers Festival

Ah, Brisbane. Las Vegas of the North. Home of the Broncos, Lions and Raw (?). Life-support system to the stupidest roundabout in the developed world.* Ah Brisbane, gateway to Burpengary.

To be serious for a moment, I actually do like Brisbane a great deal. In the twelve years or so that I've been going up there for work I've watched it transform from the big country town it was once known to be into a sprawling, pulsing city. With traffic. A lot of traffic. But a great many lovely people as well.

Brisbane is also home to one of the best-run writers festivals around. I spent three days up there last week, and was thoroughly impressed by the new venues (at the State Library) and the people who manage said venues. So many volunteers!

So here are some of my highlights:
  • The venues.
  • The attendees. Nice kids.
  • Catching up with some of the other writers, such as Scott Monk, James Moloney, Tristan Bancks, Sherryl Clark and Belinda Jeffreys, and the people from UQP and Random House.
  • Breakfast at the Gun Shot Cafe. Mmm, Canadian brekky.
  • Noel Pearson's slightly confusing address at the opening of the festival. There were protesters!
  • You know who you are...
  • Getting gridlocked in a stinky cab on the stupidest roundabout in the developed world.**
So a big thank you to Molly and her festival people for a great time – see you again some time, I hope.

*It has traffic lights on the roundabout itself.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

No such thing as a new idea?

Not sure where this came from originally, but it requires no further words from me.

(Thanks KS for the link.)

Bookweek in Griffith

Some statistics on the terrific week I just had in Griffith/Leeton/Colleambally:
  • Number of schools visited: 10
  • Workshop sessions: 7
  • Author talks: 8
  • Total students (approx): 1000
  • Bottles of wine received as gifts: 4
  • Fantastic meals consumed: 10
  • Number of those fantastic meals that were consumed at the iconic La Scala restaurant: 1
  • Total weight gain (approx): 2kg
In my experience, it's really unusual to do a full week of touring without having at least one session that leaves you feeling a bit disillusioned. But this really was a hugely fun and rewarding week, with every session full of keen, motivated and responsive kids. So thank you to all the organisers for their kindness, encouragement and hospitality, and to the students of the Riverina for being such a fun bunch of young readers and writers. See you again soon, I hope!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Typical teenagers

Before I get shot down for the title of this post, I want to emphasise that I don't think all teenagers are "typical". Or to be more accurate, I don't think any teenagers are "typical". So to anyone who hopes to take offense at the title of this post, I urge you to look up the meaning of the word "irony".

Having said that, this video is very funny.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

One more sleep...

...until I go home. I love being a writer, and a part of that is speaking in schools. And a part of speaking in schools is traveling. And when that travel is to Melbourne, my favourite Australian city, that softens the blow.

Except this time it's been almost two weeks. Last week I was at several schools in and around Melbourne, and I stayed with my friends Paul Collins and Meredith Costain, in their attic. And on Saturday night they had a bit of a gathering of Melbourne friends, complete with a chocolate birthday cake to celebrate my 41st. They're very kind, and I'm extremely grateful for their hospitality, and to all and sundry who came along.

I spent the weekend catching up with friends, and attending a couple of AFL games at the mighty 'G. And this week it's been the Literature Festival at Scotch College. I love festivals because you get to meet new people and catch up with old friends, such as Tristan Bancks, James Knight, Fiona McIntosh, and many more beside. The highlight? The mushroom and truffle oil risotto at The European on Spring Street. I love my risotto, and this, I must confess, was The. Best. Risotto. Ever. Hands down. No contest.

But risotto, friends, footy and chocolate cake aside, I am most cheered by the knowledge that I am here for one more night, then I'm heading home. Yep, one more sleep...

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Alice in Wonderland trailer

Yay! I'm excited! Burton + Depp + Bonham-Carter + crazy-arsed Lewis Carroll = can't wait.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Edsel Grizzler launch

If you're free on the afternoon of Tuesday the 18th August, and you're in any kind of proximity to Beecroft, in Sydney's north-west, you should definitely consider dropping in at the Children's Bookshop, where the wonderful Deborah Abela will be launching my new book, Edsel Grizzler - Voyage to Verdada. I'm told that there'll be pizza!

We'll also be celebrating the launch of the all new, shiny, VIP Book Club, a book club for kids. So that's two reasons for celebration, plus the pizza!

Here's the proper, official invitation. If you do want to come, please RSVP, and we really hope to see you there.

So little time...

Sometimes I feel like this guy, especially when it comes to punctuation. Just call me Captain Grammatical...

(Thanks to my excellent cousin Clansi, for sending my this via

Monday, July 27, 2009

The dreaded BAS

When I was a young chap, I was crap at maths. Now that I'm an older chap, I'm a little less crap at maths. But I'm still pretty crap. There's something about the inflexibility of numbers that irks me, that makes me feel ... well, angry, to be completely honest.

A few years ago, John Howard went back on something he'd said years before: "We will never have a GST under a Coalition government. Never, ever." Liar! A few years later, what did we get? A GST. Which is an initialism for something that makes keeping books rather more difficult than it needs to be. Perhaps not for someone who is "good with figures", but difficult nonetheless.

The first time I had to do a Business Activity Statement, or BAS, I went out and bought MYOB. Big mistake. I should have caught on, when the sales guy dropped a flyer into the bag with the software - a flyer for a twelve week TAFE course on How to use MYOB.

That first night, I installed the wretched thing on my computer, then spent five or six hours screaming at it. "I don't want to reconcile my check! I don't even have a check to reconcile! I don't know what reconciling a check even means! And it's spelt C-H-E-Q-U-E!"

Then, after several hours of screaming, I felt like crying. Seriously. I got that old familiar feeling from high school, with the maths teacher standing by my right shoulder, pointing at my maths book, jabbing with that long finger, demanding that I know what something-or-other's value was. "No, what's x? It's very simple. Work it out! What's x? X!"

"I don't know! Leave me alone!"

Except it wasn't my old maths teacher standing by my desk, but John Howard, pointing and demanding. "What's your input tax credit? No, not your PAYG witholding tax, your input tax credit. What is it?"

"I don't know! Leave me alone! I'm a writer! I've only ever wanted to be a writer! If I'd wanted to be an accountant, I'd have done accounting! And I'd have paid better attention in Year 10 maths!"

I've got a spreadsheet now, which my accountant (that's someone who is good with numbers, who people like me pay to be good with our numbers) gave me. And my BAS still takes the better part of a day, every three months, but I don't need a twelve week TAFE course just to know how to use it.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Inkys longlist (which I can't reveal)

Along with the other Inkys judges, I received an email from Lili Wilkinson at the Centre for Youth Literature a week or so back, wherein we were given the names of the twenty YA books on the 2009 Inkys longlist. I'm not at liberty to mention which books are on said list, except to say that there are ten Australian titles (which will be dukeing it out for the Golden Inky) and ten international titles, which will compete for the Silver Inky. And that I've got a truckload of reading to do between now and the beginning of October. Not to complain - free books!

The launch of this year's Inkys will be an online event on the 20th of August - more details here. Check it out, take part. The final vote is a readers' vote.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Now THAT's weird...

I'm currently working on a graphic novel text for which I was commissioned. It's a futuristic thing about global warming, called A New Kind of Alchemy, in which the new 'alchemists' seek to create water from non-watery elements.

Anyway, the point is that I was trying to come up with a character name for the teenager who is working within New Science. For some reason I thought of Gregor. I'm not sure why, but it felt good as a name - it's got elements of older language, but sort of works five hundred years in the future as well.

Then I went to a website that gives the meanings of various names, and I typed 'scientist' into the meaning box. And in amongst the Alans and Benjamins and Plinys and Leonardos was... Gregor, derived from Gregory or Gregorius, which means 'watchful and alert'. Like a good scientist.

Now, isn't that weird?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Anonymity Jones, laryngitis and kickarse reviews

1.00 am: I finish and email the final draft of Anonymity Jones. At least, I finish and email what I hope is the final draft of Anonymity Jones, which is now scheduled for release by Woolshed Press in February 2010. I feel good to have finished the draft, but am also quietly concerned, since I have a gig later in the morning, and have been able to say little all day due to laryngitis. But it's improving, so with sleep I feel sure it'll be OK.
*Voice quality: 4/10

7.00 am: I get out of bed and prepare to drive to Cherrybrook Technology High School for a day of author talks. I drink a glass of pineapple juice, which is supposed to be good for laryngitis.ª
*Voice quality: 5

8.00 am: I hit the M7, repeating everything the radio newsreader says, just to check my voice.
*Voice quality: 5-6

9.00 am: I reach CTHS, and find the library. I assure the organisers that my voice is improving by the minute. More pineapple juice, which is supposed to be a trick singers use.ª
*Voice quality: 7

9.30am: I start my 50 minute author talk to 75 Year Sevens, who are good enough to remain very quiet for the duration. I even manage to do my wrestler voice. Falsetto toddler voice not so good. Kid asks if I always talk like Darth Vader. I tell him I think it's more like Chewbacca.
*Voice quality: 8

10.45 am: Whilst trying to have a conversation with JC Burke and Steven Herrick, my voice fails almost completely. This bodes very poorly for my 11.30 (Year 10!) session.
*Voice quality: 2-3

11.30 am: _________________
*Voice quality: 0

11.35 am: Seventy-five Year 10s are relocated across the school to invade Steven's session. They have a great time. He's a trooper.
*Voice quality: 0

1.30 pm: My last session is canned, with a promise to come back later in the year to give my remaining author talk then. Much of this discussion is conducted via sign language, whispering, and even a bit of whiteboard action.
*Voice quality: 1

4.00 pm: I arrive home to this review for Max Quigley. I whoop, but silently.

ª(Pig's arse.)

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Narnia poll - the results

Which was your favourite Narnia book? The results might surprise you...

By a narrow margin, two books came out on top. That's right, it was a dead heat, but which were the joint winners?

One of the two shouldn't be a huge surprise - The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. High adventure, a seafaring tale, plus the little guys with only one foot. And Reepicheep, of course, who made all singin', all dancin', all fencin' mice cool long before Brian Jacques started writing the same book over and over. (Oops - did I say that out loud?)

Incidentally, I'm excited to note that Dawn Treader is the next of the Chronicles to be adapted into a movie, with Eddie Izzard voicing Reepicheep. After the disappointment of the Prince Caspian movie (I always felt it was the weakest book anyway) I'm looking forward to the next movie very much.

Back to the poll: the other winner was The Magician's Nephew. I know - I was slightly surprised as well. But I can see why it polled well. In a genre where the quest for a convincing inter-world portal never ends (and where Lewis had to come up with several) I always thought the rings and the Wood Between The Worlds was genius. The moment where Digory realises with horror that he almost forgot to mark their pond... **sharp intake of breath**

For the record, my vote was for The Silver Chair, with Dawn Treader and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in a close race for second.

It's happening already.

Part of the argument against parallel importation of books, at least by some parts of the industry, is the 'cultural dilution' of our language. That is to say, some fear that our kids will read Australian books that have been changed to suit American readers, and thereby become American.

Well, folks, it's here. It's happening. I have clear evidence. This morning one of my daughters congratulated me on a quick bit of mental calculation by saying, 'That's some quick math, Dad.'

'Some quick what?'


'Maths! It's maths! With an S at the end!'

(Daughter rolls eyes.) 'Whatever.'

That is all. No, seriously, it's over. I hope someone from the Productivity Commission is reading this.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I learnt something very cool yesterday...

My brother Rob and his son Lachlan are currently on a motorcycle tour of Central Europe.

(That's not the very cool something I learnt yesterday - I already knew that.)

A few days back, they went to a city in Germany called Hildesheim. This is the place where my great-grandfather Gustav Bachaus (later Gus Backhouse) was born. I was reminded of this when Rob put a bit of info about the place in his travel blog, and mentioned how special it was for him to be in the birthplace of a forebear.

(This is where the cool bit starts.)

I looked at the name of the city, and that, in conjunction with Rob's description of how much of Hildesheim was bombed flat during the war, reminded me of something. The familiarity of the name, and the rebuilding following the war, the state in which the town resides...

Then I remembered. (And this is the cool bit.) The German edition of my book Town is being published by Gerstenberg, a publishing house based in (guess where!) Hildesheim! Where my great-grandfather was born! How incredibly cool and circular and appropriate is that?

One more cool (but mostly unrelated) thing: on the front of the Gerstenberg website is a link to the German edition of Eric Carle's 'pop up buch', Die Kleine Raupe Nimmersatt, which translates literally to 'The Little Caterpillar Glutton.' I thought that was kind of cute.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Writing quote X

He that uses many words for the explaining of any subject doth, like the cuttlefish, hide himself for the most part in his own ink.
(John Ray)

The end.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Poll results - CBCA Younger Readers

Twenty-one votes this time, which isn't a huge number, but 50% better than last time, for those of a statistical bent.

And here are the results:
  • Catherine Bateson: 6
  • Sandy Fussell: 6
  • Morris Gleitzman: 5
  • Glenda Millard/Steven Michael King: 3
  • Emily Rodda: 1
  • Christine Harris/Ann James: 0
So, there we have it - a completely unreliable guide to who will win this year's CBCA Younger Readers category. My vote, for what it's worth, was for Then, by Morris Gleitzman. Read my review here.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Twitlit (Parte the seconde)

Anthony Eaton is a very funny chap. After several days of no Twitlit (classics retold in 140 characters or less) he came up with four in as many minutes.
  • Moby Dick: Call me Ishmael. It might be just me, but I think the Captain's kinda mad. I don't see how this voyage can end well...
  • The Caine Mutiny: Call me Keith. It might be just me, but I think the Captain's kinda mad. I don't see how this voyage can end well...
  • Heart of Darkness: Call me Marlow. It might be just me, but I think Kurtz is kinda mad. I don't see how this voyage can end well...
  • Into White Silence: Call me Downes. It might be just me, but I think the Captain is kinda mad. I don't see how this voyage can end well...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Writing quote VIII (and IX)

Two quotes today, both from the inimitable Mark Twain, and both more or less about the same thing. Here's the first:

As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out.

And the second:

Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very;" your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.

That's damn good advice, don't you think?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


The term 'Twitlit' has been coined before, but only for original work, as far as I can tell. By that I mean that contests have been set up whereby people wrote short stories in 140 characters or less, a la Twitter. (Although I think you'd be hard pressed to top Hemingway's classic uber-tweet short story: For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.)

But the way Anthony Eaton has used the term, it refers to tweeting a very brief synopsis of a novel that already exists.

Some of Tony's examples:
  • T.G.Gatsby: In my younger days, I met Gatsby. He and my cousin killed a mechanic's wife. Then Gatsby got killed himself. Sad.
  • A Tale of Two Cities: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Then worse again still. Then slightly better. Then awful. The end
  • Crime and Punishment: I'm Raskolnikov. Killed a pawnbroker and family. Didn't feel too bad about it. Now I do. Off to Siberia...
I particularly like that last one. I've attempted a couple, but I don't think they're as good as Tony's.
  • LordOfTheFlies: Mayday. Unplanned trip to an island. If Piggy still had his glasses he'd be OK. Would you rather be Ralph, Piggy or Simon?
  • Hamlet: Dead dad, whorish mum, sleazy uncle, crazy girlfriend. Best friend is pretty cool, though. Sounds like classic YA to me...

Poll results - CBCA Older Readers

Last week I set up a blog poll asking who would win this year's Older Readers category of the CBCA Book of the Year awards. The participation numbers weren't huge (fourteen, to be precise) but a clear winner emerged. Here they are, in actual vote numbers.
  • Anthony Eaton: 7
  • Shaun Tan: 3
  • Melina Marchetta: 2
  • DM Cornish: 1
  • Jackie French: 1
  • James Moloney: 0
As I say, it's not a huge sample group, but the result is clear enough for Tony Eaton to almost certainly claim 'kissee-of-death' status. In fact, he already has.

The new poll is now up - it's the turn of the Younger Readers category.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Kinross Wolaroi School Winter LitFest

Yep, that's where I've been, in the 'City of Colour', Orange.

It's cold in Orange at the moment. I used to think Wagga Wagga, Glen Innes and Armidale had the cold inland cities market cornered, but cripes, I think we have a new contender. On the first morning, as I was reversing my car out of the hotel car space, I felt a bump and heard a squeak. I got out of my car, and this is what I found under my back wheel...

Dead polar critters aside, I had a great time at KWS, as part of their inaugural Winter LitFest, working alongside David Legge, Frances Watts and Charlotte Calder. Lovely kids, generous teachers, friendly and warm library staff. So big congratulations to Amanda Foster, to Nicole and all the other library staff for putting on a great event, and I hope you keep the momentum going. I know it's hard work, but it's so worth it, and the students truly appreciate it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Writing quote VII

Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.
(Anton Chekhov)

Chekhov, regarded by many as one of the great writers of the short story, could be talking about a couple of things here. In fact, I'm almost certain he is. First, he's putting another angle on that age-old writing maxim, 'Show, don't tell'. This is a quote I often pull out in my workshops, because it's a perfect way to describe this important idea.

But I suspect he's also saying something about the use of sadness and personal imperfection in our writing. When he was thirty, Chekhov found a new passion and purpose in life: prison reform. His letters and observations from Sakhalin Island penal settlement in far east Russia are graphic depictions of human degradation, and amongst his most moving writing.

There's another Chekhov quote which I really like, but it's got more to do with the way we construct our stories. If the earlier quote is about showing rather than telling, this one is about foreshadowing:

If in Act I you have a pistol hanging on the wall, then it must fire in the last act.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


Yes, you saw correctly.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Haiku kin'youbi

(...which translates crudely to "Haiku Friday".)

in the produce hall
pumpkins huge as kettle drums
that's a lot of soup

Thursday, June 4, 2009


Without wanting to dwell too much on a pretty wild ride with the State of Origin boys last night, I'd like to say how sick and tired I am of constantly hearing about Queensland passion, like anyone north of the border has a mortgage on fighting spirit. Our hugely inexperienced lads managed to push what amounted to the Australian backline to within an inch of an embarrassing defeat. Before the game one of the Queenslanders was saying how much they enjoy holding 'underdog status'. Please -- they haven't had underdog status for three years now, yet they keep claiming it, which allows them to persist with this 'extra Queensland passion' nonsense.

That is all.

Monday, June 1, 2009

I think I'm getting an irony migraine

Reading Matters

I'd been looking forward to the Reading Matters conference in Melbourne for months. I love presenting at festivals and conferences anyway, but this one was especially exciting: not only does RM have a great reputation for quality and inspiration and meticulous planning, but it featured a wealth of presenters I was keen to meet, and to hear speak. And best of all, (like always) it was in Melbourne, my favourite Australian city.

I really want to thank Paula, Mike and Lili and all their many helpers (especially Erin, who MCed the student day) for inviting me to the conference, and for providing such an incredible and thought-provoking experience for everyone who attended. I can't imagine anyone went home even slightly disapointed.

I could go on and on for several pages, but I won't. Instead, for your edification, I'll simply list my highlights and lowlights of Reading Matters '09.

  • John Green's wonderful opening address.
  • The enthusiasm of the audiences, both adult and student.
  • MT Anderson explaining (with help from a live concert violinist) how he uses the cadence of 18th Century music to influence the pattern of his narrative.
  • Hanging out with Isobelle Carmody, who, despite accidentally applying a drop of superglue directly into her eye, managed to be a great deal of fun and encouragement.
  • Tony Eaton's blue hair, which somehow didn't distract from his excellent presentations.
  • The privilege of introducing overseas guests to the spectacle of 40,000 screaming Victorians watching AFL in an indoor stadium.
  • Tristan Bancks' polished delivery.
  • Shooting the breeze until well after midnight with the charming Mo Johnson, who somehow convinced the concierge to reopen the bar, just for us.
  • Spending time with the warm, generous Mal Peet and his equally warm and generous wife Elspeth.
  • The Hypotheticals session on Thursday night.
  • Riffing on-stage with John green in the closing session.
  • The calm professionalism of the Reading Matters staff, and their attention to detail. (They even stapled tram tickets to our program to help us get around town.)
  • Each of the sessions.
  • Everything else.
  • I lost a sock.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Writing quote VI

Today's quote is from the German writer, Thomas Mann, as related by Clive James:

A writer is someone for whom writing is harder than it is for other people.

Clive James then goes on to say: "That line is perfect in every way. Not only is it perfectly written, but it's absolutely true. The only thing I've got better at as the years have gone by is I've grown more resigned to the fact that it comes hard. You realise that hesitation and frustration and waiting are part of the process, and you don't panic. I get a lot better at not panicking. I get up every morning early if it's a writing day and I will do nothing else but write that day. But the secret is not to panic if it doesn't come."

You can read the rest of Decca Aitkenhead's Guardian interview with Clive James here. And thanks to Shannon for the heads-up on this one.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sydney Writers' Festival

What fun! Yesterday, five hundred kids high school kids (some of whom were either actually in primary school, or pupils from Our Lady of the Sacred Oompa-Loompa) streamed into the amazing Sydney Theatre to hear Randa Abdel-Fatah, Garth Nix, Mal Peet, Isobelle Carmody and me talk about our books.

And today, slightly fewer (but still several hundred) kids flocked to the gorgeous Riverside Theatre at Parramatta for the same program.

My talk was titled Of Truths, Towns and Elephants (or why I'd have made a crap engineer) and it seemed to go over OK. I even sold a few books afterward.

But I have to say, that Garth Nix is a bit of a rock star. Yesterday, Garth wasn't even on stage yet, and the MC said, 'Our next speaker is Garth Nix." And the place went crazy. Seriously 'Oh-my-God-I-think-I'm-going-to-faint-someone-fan-me-before-I-completely-pass-out-OH-MY-GOD-IT'S-GARTH-NIX!' crazy. Unbelievable.

I got my own cheer, but it wasn't pre-emptive like Garth's - it was only by slagging off Twilight. A girl in the audience asked me what I thought of Twilight, and I said, 'I think Stephenie Meyer has singlehandedly set the liberation of women back by forty years.' The questioner asked me why, and I said, 'Because she tells us that someone like Edward Cullen can be as much of a prick as he likes to a girl like Bella, and she should just take it, simply because he's all shiny.'

I was slightly surprised when the place went crazy with applause, and to be honest, I felt just a tiny bit of my faith in the discerning nature of teens beginning to return.

(Photos: Jamie Simpson)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The shame of rugby league.

I would love to weigh in on the Matthew Johns furore, but since this blog is linked to my website and therefore occasionally visited by young students, I can't be as direct as I'd like to be. So I'll simply say this...

The trio of Matthew Johns, the second Sharks player, and the young woman involved entered into an arrangement that was consensual, at least at the beginning. That decision was, with the benefit of hindsight (and some might have seen it in foresight as well) clearly a foolish one. They didn't start out doing anything 'wrong' (I've avoided using the word 'immoral', because that's another issue altogether) but a whole world of wrong turned up later in the night.

What alarms me most is the vitriol being spewed in the direction of the girl. Apparently, according to many, many tiny-minded people, and at least one journalist, she got exactly what she was asking for. I don't agree. I suspect it was probably a booze-fueled experiment that became much more than she intended. Questions of morality aside, I don't think that girl signed up for what took place later on in the evening.

Is seven years too long to wait to report something traumatic? Probably. Except she didn't -- she reported it at the time. No charges were laid. No, of course not, because no laws were broken. But that doesn't mean that an abuse of power didn't occur. As twitterer babycakesjase said, 'how much agency does a single19 year old girl have surrounded by a bunch of footy players?'

Should one man take the fall for everyone else involved? Probably not. But I have a message for Matthew Johns: mate, your claim that you 'walked away' when things started going too far does not make you a hero. It does not give you the moral high ground. Quite the contrary. You helped create a situation, but didn't have the guts to speak up when it escalated to a level with which you were uncomfortable. You were a senior team member, and supposed to be a leader.

Some leader.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Writers Talk 2009

The clever people from the Centre for Learning Innovation at the NSW Department of Education and Training have just started releasing the 2009 edition of the Writers Talk series of video interviews and resources, where authors talk about their process, their inspiration and pretty much anything else you can imagine asking a writer. The '09 videos available thus far are from Tohby Riddle, Randa Abdel-Fattah, Mark McLeod and me, while some of the names still to come this year include Mal Peet, Garth Nix and Morris Gleitzman.

Click on the image above to go to the 2009 videos. This link also provides access to the interviews from 2008 and 2007.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Writing quote V

Today's quote is from John Grisham. Now, courtroom books aren't everyone's cup of tea, and I haven't read every book Grisham ever published, although those I have read, I've quite enjoyed, with his first, A Time to Kill being my favourite.

But I especially love Grisham's personal story, sitting in his car during his lunch break, writing his fiction longhand on yellow legal pads.

But my bestest most favouritist thing concerning John Grisham is this quote, which more or less describes why certain themes (such as bullying) seem to keep popping up in my own work.

The good thing about writing fiction is that you can get back at people. I've gotten back at lawyers, prosecutors, judges, law professors and politicians. I just line 'em up and shoot 'em.
(John Grisham)

Monday, May 11, 2009

"Target is on the move", or Adventures of an Espionagey Nature

You know that feeling you sometimes get, where you sense that you're being watched? And then you realise that you actually are being watched?

There we were at the Art Gallery of NSW, having paid our family entry fee for the Archibald exhibition. My daughter April had her camera around her neck, but had noticed that no one else seemed to have cameras out, so we assumed that we must have missed a sign somewhere near the entrance that stipulated no cameras. Therefore she made a decision that she wouldn't take any photos.

Then my wife saw a female security guard who seemed very familiar. Why so familiar? Because she looked exactly like the female security guard in the previous room. And the one before that. And the one before that. At risk of sounding paranoid, it seemed we were being followed. And watched. In a crush of people, we, the Roy family, were being tailed.

Or were we? We decided to conduct an experiment, and vary our journey through the exhibition. Take a slightly unexpected direction. And there she was again, watching us. Actually watching us. I'd look at her, and she'd look away, then glance back. Then follow us into the next room. God knows how many Archibald portraits were being touched by inquisitive fingers while we held the attention of the security guard.

We tried something different - we doubled back to one of the earlier rooms. She came with us.

Then we entered the turf of another security guard, and we saw them have a brief conference, in which we were pointed at. Actually pointed at, as in, "Watch them, they're trouble." Then this new guard followed us for the next twenty minutes. At one stage I pointed at a sculpture, with my finger a full thirty centimetres from the piece, and he craned his neck to make sure I wasn't defacing the priceless relic.*

So, my question is this: if you are a gallery security guard and you see someone with a camera around their neck, and there are signs saying that patrons shouldn't have cameras (signs which we didn't in fact see) why wouldn't you go up to that patron and simply say, "I'm just letting you know that you can't take photos of the exhibition." In which case we'd have said, "Oh, we're sorry. Thanks for letting us know." We might have even said, "One of us will take the camera out to the baggage check desk and come back in." Either of those options would have been preferable to putting two security guards on spy detail, tracking the shifty movements of a family of four having a nice Mothers' Day outing in the city.

Just saying.

(* An abstract thingamy made of pencils glued together with Araldite.)

Friday, May 8, 2009


Remind me, how long does it take to start a broom?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Anonymity Jones, and Writing Quote IV

It's finished, and is currently sitting in Leonie's inbox. Ah, wondrous day!

It was so tempting to stay in bed this morning, and sometimes I wonder if I'm burning out. I know that sounds dramatic, but having worked in a high stress healthcare career for almost twenty years, I think I'm qualified to identify the signs of burnout. The fact is, I've been pretty prolific over the couple of years. Not Jackie French prolific, just 250,000 words prolific. Hunting Elephants, The Gimlet Eye, the first in the Edsel Grizzler trilogy, and now Anonymity Jones, plus all the incidental stuff, articles etc. I've got several (10-ish) more projects lined up, but I also feel like I need a break.

The problem is, though, that if I'm not writing, everyone else is. And I'm aware of the collective weight of Other Stuff being written, and published, and bought. So this is why, after finishing a YA novel at 11pm last night, I'm now cracking my knuckles in preparation for something new.

The other day someone called me a 'word machine'. To which I replied, 'Yes, I churn out the words, but then a bunch of women in hair nets have to pick out the bent ones.'*

I learnt a long time ago that if I set myself a minimum amount of writing time per day, I can waste that so easily. There are so many distractions right here, contained within the 6 square metres of space that is my study, and at the end of an eight hour day, I'll have achieved very little in terms of actually writing anything. So my solution - which works very well for me, I might add - has been to set a word quota. 2,000 words a day. Minimum. Every day. And most days I achieve that, although lately I've been limiting myself to 1,000 words on weekends.

But how many bent words am I producing? I think that's an important consideration.

So, to the writing quote, this time from the British author and historian Gerald Brenan. And here's what he had to say about this:

It is by sitting down to write every morning that one becomes a writer. Those who do not do this remain amateurs.

* (No disrespect meant to any of the lovely publishers and editors with whom I work. As far as I'm aware, none of them wears a hair net.)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A writing quote III

I like pushing the form, over-reaching, going a little too far, just on the edge, sometimes getting your fingers burned. It's good to do that.

(Gay Talese)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A writing quote II

A writer uses a journal to try out the new step in front of the mirror.

(Mary Gordon)

Friday, May 1, 2009

A writing quote

A writer's knowledge of himself, realistic and unromantic, is like a store of energy on which he must draw for a lifetime; one volt of it properly directed will bring a character alive.

(Grahame Greene)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Edsel Grizzler Book 1 - the cover and blurb!


Welcome to Verdada.

When Edsel takes an unexpected voyage to a parallel dimension, his life is transformed overnight. Suddenly, his over-protective parents are nowhere to be seen and rules are a thing of the past.

Or so he thinks.

Everything seems perfect.

Everything is not what it seems.

Edsel needs to decide between the world he knows or being Forever Young in a place of Forever Fun. But time is running out.

Will Edsel be stuck in Verdada forever?

(Also, be sure to check out the YouTube trailer.)

Saturday, April 25, 2009


I'm not a perfect parent. I'm nothing like a perfect parent, and I've never claimed to be. But I like to think that I would never allow my child to own a toy M16 semi-automatic rifle. And if, by some freak event, I did allow my child to have such a toy, I feel completely certain that I would never allow that child to take it along to an ANZAC Day parade.

Perhaps these people thought that their young sons were entering into the spirit of the day, what with marching people in uniform, and ex-Army Jeeps, and a Catapult Party with rifles. But then to allow them to run around pretending to fire volleys of bullets into one another was insensitive at best, offensive at worst.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Russell Brand - not as funny as he thinks

If a lanky ex-junkie/recovering sex-addict with bad hair, tight jeans and a self-conscious giggle is your bag, Ponderland might be just your thing.

If you like your jokes delivered from an auto-cue with a healthy sprinkling - nay, a frikkin shovelful - of the Bleeding Obvious, Ponderland might float your boat.

If hearing a lanky ex-junkie/recovering sex-addict with bad hair explain the irony behind what would, under any other circumstances, be bewilderingly amusing clips from old British TV documentaries, give Ponderland a go.

Anyone else should avoid it like a rampant dose of the clap. Seriously.

(Is there an emoticon for "shudder"?)

Friday, April 17, 2009

YA Blogosphere

It's like your one-stop YA blog shop. Check it out. Click on the pic. Say hi to Steph. Then come back here.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Wikifish by Babelpedia

You know how sometimes when you're really tired, you'll be reading something on Wikipedia and you have to look twice, and you think, Wait, that's so badly worded that it must be my tired eyes playing tricks? But then you look again and it's not that - it really is that badly worded. Then you realise that it's because this is part of an article about a place mainly populated by people who don't speak English at all, but do speak Spanish very well, so they've written the article in Spanish, then used some kind of online translator to turn it into ... something. Thus:
  • Park of May In May
of 1910 when commemorating itself the centenary of the rebolución of May, is inagurado is green space, from comes its name there. Be lung of the city is in the intersection of the streets Reconciled Liberating General San Martín and the Heras, has infantile games, an artificial lake with an island, fish and aquatic birds, a velodrome, kartódromo and sentenares of statues between the outstanding are the one of General San Martín, the one of Federico Cantoni (governor of the province) and the one of the monument to the sport..
This is from the Wikipedia article for San Juan, Argentina, and the whole piece isn't like this - it's just parts of the Urban Aspect section.

I'm quite fascinated by the infantile games in particular. Poking fun at one another, kicking sand in faces, smacking and pinching, showing off, that sort of thing. Usually when I'm Wiki'ing I'll fix little errors that I find, which is, of course, what we're all supposed to do. But in this case I seriously don't know where to start.

(Oh, and please, before anyone gets all snooty, I'm not being Anglocentric and making fun of Spanish-speaking people, OK? I do respect their language, cultures, dialects, customs and regional idiosyncrasies in all their rich diversity. This just stuck me as a little amusing. Sheesh!)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Parallel Importation

This from the news section of the Australian Society of Authors website, regarding parallel importation, and how the 'Coalition for Cheaper Books', led by Dymocks, seems determined to undermine the livelihood of Australian authors, along with our unique literary culture:

Parallel Importation

The draft report from the Productivity Commission on the parallel importation of books has been released. Authors have until April 17 to make submissions in response.The ASA’s view is that the report does not show books are more expensive in Australia, yet supports the fact that Australia’s literary culture benefits from territorial copyright. Therefore, we reject any suggestion for changes to the current restrictions on the parallel importation of books. We call on members to make submissions supporting this view not only to the Commission, but also to the Prime Minister and Cabinet. These submissions are best done as hard copy documents — faxes or traditional mail — rather than email, since politicians give more weight to this form of document.
Click here to read the report.

Go here for the latest ASA news and press on the subject, or here for the newly created AusBooks website.

Brisbane: Children's authors protest against Parallel Importation. Join the protest on 16 April at 10.30am, outside the Queen Street entrance of Dymocks.

The group has chosen Dymocks because they are the most pro-active members of the “Coalition for Cheaper Books”, and the distributor of a petition they claim will “help reduce the price of books". The ASA refutes this, and urges all members who are also members of Dymocks Booklovers to consider removing themselves from the mailing list, and registering their protest at Dymocks’ actions with Managing Director Don Grover (c/- Dymocks, 424 George Street, Sydney NSW 2000).