Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Disappointed (some elaboration)

Here's the thing. A year ago, Town was on several CBCA Clayton's shortlists, and named as top pick in at least one case. I was also told by one of the judges how much she adored that book. So on the big day of the 2008 announcement, I felt quietly confident. It was, as far as I was concerned, the best thing I'd ever written, hands down.

At 11am on that fateful day, just before I went into a creative writing workshop with thirty excitable Year 6 kids, I logged on and saw the list of Notable Books. There was Town. First hurdle cleared. The big one would be announced in an hour.

At 12 noon, I gave the kids a quick writing exercise and logged in again. After a few false starts, the shortlist finally showed up. Meme McDonald, Sonya Hartnett, John Heffernan, and so on, name after name that wasn't mine. I sighed, accepted it and turned off the computer and went back to work. Yes, I was gutted, but to be fair, that was mostly of my own doing. I'd let myself believe what I wanted to believe - that Town was destined to be on that shortlist. Arrogant? Cocky? Overconfident? Perhaps all of the above, even based on the evidence I felt I'd gathered. So this year I didn't even note the announcement date on my calendar. If Hunting Elephants was going to get onto the YA shortlist, it was going to be a surprise. A lovely, lovely surprise. (And it would have been too, since I honestly don't think it's my very best book ever.)

So, what was my error this year? Simply that I set myself a bare minimum achievement for Hunting Elephants -- inclusion on the 20-ish strong list of Notable Books. That much I thought would be good, anything more would be gravy.

I don't go much for karma, dogma or any such supernatural entities. But I think that maybe Karma did have something to teach me today: that hiding under the feeble modesty of not 'expecting' to be shortlisted is not enough - you genuinely shouldn't expect anything. At all. Then you can't be disappointed.

So mark these words: next year, when Anonymity Jones is eligible for these awards in which we place so much stock, I'm going to expect nothing. Nothing. Then anything I might (but probably won't) get will be a true delight.

Sincerest congratulations to all those whose books did appear on the lists, and my heartfelt commiserations to anyone who harboured hopes that their book might, but didn't, particularly Bill Condon, Julia Lawrinson and Libby Gleeson, who can each feel slightly out of sorts that their very fine books were overlooked.


That is all.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sydney Writers Festival, Secondary School Days

As doubtful as I might be regarding the widespreadedness of this blog and the sundry thoughts expressed herein, I'm going to put this out there anyway. The Sydney Writers Festival is coming, from May 18-24. The program is locked in, the writers are booked, the venues are ready.

Now, if you are a secondary student, or someone who works with secondary students, or indeed anyone keen to hear some YA writers talk about their work, there are two Secondary School Days organised by the festival. They are on Tuesday, May 19 at the Sydney Theatre, Walsh Bay (basically under the south pylon of the Bridge) and Wednesday, May 20, at the Riverside Theatre, Parramatta.

The authors speaking will be Randah Abdel-Fattah (Does My Head Look Big in This?; Ten Things I Hate About Me), Mal Peet (Tamar; Keeper; The Penalty), Garth Nix (Keys To The Kingdom series), Isobelle Carmody (Obernewtyn Chronicles), and me.

Further details are available here.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

NSW Premier's Awards

The shortlist for the NSW Premiers Awards was announced today. Of course, the first place I went was to the Patricia Wrightson (children's) category and the Ethel Turner (YA) category. I had harboured some secret hope that Hunting Elephants might have popped up on one of those lists, but no cigar. Never mind - I had my turn last year, and with all the drama of the stolen laptop, the recovery of same and the subsequent death threats, I can probably do without the drama.

Of some consolation to not being on the list was seeing that a number of my good friends were, not least of all Tohby Riddle, with one book all of his own in the Wrightson category, and one that he illustrated for Ursula Dubosarsky on the same list. So yay for Tohby, and for Ursula. Shaun Tan makes an expected appearance for his wonderful Tales from Outer Suburbia, Sonya Hartnett is on the list with Ann James, as is Bob Graham, and Glenda Millard, with Stephen Michael King doing the illos for her book. My tip? My heart says Tohby, because he's a good mate (not to mention fellow cricket tragic) but the betting man would have piles of money on Shaun Tan.

The Ethel Turner is an interesting one this year. Di Bates is on there, with a book that will add to the newcomer Ford Street's impressive grab-bag of gong short-listings out of a fairly small number of titles. Congrats too to Joanne Horniman, Nette Hilton and Alison Goodman. DM Cornish has kicked a lot of goals with his Monster Blood Tattoo boks, of which this is the second, but I think my money is with Michelle Cooper for A Brief History of Montmoray, which was shortlisted for the Gold Inkys last year, and is by any measure quite, quite special.

As for the rest of the lists, there are too many books to list, but I think the bookies are about to close betting on Tim Winton picking up both the Christina Stead and the overall Book of the Year with Breath. Having said that, it's a powerhouse list, and you shouldn't rule out the Grenville/Garner quinella.

And it would be really great to see a book from a category other than the Adult Fiction list win the overall gong. Shaun Tan did it with The Arrival, and so did Samuel Wagan Watson with Smoke Encrypted Whispers. Can it happen again? Let's hope.

All of the shortlists can be seen here.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Max Quigley, Technically Not a Bully

Huzzah! My first US book has just been released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It's more or less a rejacket and slight reworking of my 2007 UQP book Problem Child.

To me, the most exciting thing about all this, quite apart from the 20,000 hardback copies HMH is printing, is that I got to keep most of the Australian-ness of the original: I didn't have to change 'Mum' to 'Mom'; after a brief discussion Triffin Nordstrom was allowed to keep living in 'the bush' rather than 'the woods'; I dropped a couple of unnecessary details like Vegemite and cricket; and Nerdstrom now enjoys playing with 'Legos', rather than 'Lego'. And they study 'math' rather than 'maths'.

I also had to lessen the number of times I used 'a bit'. As in, 'When I ran over her foot in the car, Mum was a bit cross.' It's an Australian trick of understatement that the US publishers didn't feel would work very well for their market. And since I do use that mini-phrase quite often, I had to trim its use back a bit (!).

I find the differences between the way we look at publishing here and the US quite interesting. I was chatting with an American man on the flight back from NZ, and I told him how excited I was to finally have a book in hardcover. His response: 'Well, I hope it sells so well that it's soon in paperback.'

Good call.

Finally, here is the YouTube trailer I made for the book. Please distribute and share freely:

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Big fun on the Gold Coast, at the always excellent Somerset College Celebration of Literature, a.k.a. the Somerset Festival, or to most people in my particular line of work, simply 'Somerset'. This was the sixteenth year of the festival, which is the one by which all others in Australia are judged. In fact, many of the others have been modeled closely on Somerset.

Highlights included, but were not limited to:
  • Great sessions with kids from over 70 schools from as far away as North Brisbane and the Northern Rivers district of NSW;
  • Hanging out with lots of other authors and illustrators (peer time is one of the great benefits of festivals);
  • The white chocolate and raspberry muffins;
  • Alice Pung's very entertaining and moving address at last night's Festival Dinner;
  • Playing tennis with former pro-tennis player and now author Pat Flynn. Yes, I lost. But yes, I did manage to get one or two serves back. I was proud of that;
  • Yet-to-be finalised invitations to several exciting festivals and events after a number of program directors caught my sessions.
Lowlights were very few:
  • The ambient temperature and humidity in the marquees on the oval. I swear I saw an anaconda disappear under the stage at one point. Plus there was that macaw up in the rigging. Some private schools are known for hot-housing their students, but this was just silliness.
  • I think that's it.
There you go. Not much to complain about, then.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Noo Zulland

Four days in South New Zealand: nice. Whitebait and the local drop: wonderful. Doing it all on someone else's expense account: priceless.

Greymouth isn't glamourous. Neither is Hokitika, and those who live in and around the West Coast would be the first to admit it. But they know that anyone visiting the West Coast is there for one of three reasons:

1. They're visiting family;
2. They're on their way to glacier country, and are going to be tramping some pretty hardcore country, and don't give a flying rat's what anyone thinks of them, or;
3. They like their beaches wild, windswept and cluttered with driftwood.

In other words, you only go to the West Coast on purpose. It's not an accidental kind of place to visit.

Oh and there's a fourth and subsequent fifth reason:

4. You're one of sixty librarians attending a South Island librarian's conference, and;
5. You're a writer, who is there to talk to sixty librarians.

Always one for new experiences, some of the things I did and saw over the four days included, but were not limited to:
  • Flying past Mt Cook in a tiny plane.
  • Eating whitebait, which is a very small, short-season fish, only allowed to be caught non-commercially, after which it is mixed whole with flour and egg like a fritter and fried (often alive), and traditionally eaten between two slices of bread and butter. If you can manage to avoid looking into their sad little eyes, they're delicious, which is how local delicacies are supposed to be.
  • Meeting Joy Cowley, a 600-book icon of New Zealand kidlit; and Stu Duval, a brilliant writer and storyteller who drew a standing ovation at the end of his hour-long Anzac story.
  • Dinner and drinks overlooking a fast-flowing glacial stream as locals fly-fished ... successfully.
  • Being charged $50 three times in a hour for unsuccessful ISD calls home from Christchurch airport. Yes, TelecomNZ, I will be taking this further.
  • The finest pub counter meal I have ever, ever, ever eaten, at Stumpers in Hokihita. You know those meals where you take close your eyes and sigh after each tiny little bite, and and you chew really slowly, because you don't ever want the meal to end? Yuh, just like that. Details follow. (Yes, I wrote them down on a napkin):
Balsamic Glazed Venison
Seasoned venison baked medium-rare. Accompanied by roasted beetroot & shallots rested on new potatoes enhanced in a balsamic & maple glaze.
Oh. My. God. I'd fly back there tomorrow just for another taste. And believe me, when I say that, I'm only slightly exaggerating...