I've just got home from a school drama performance. I don't go to these very often any more—I have a few nieces and one nephew who were into drama, but they've all finished school now, and anyway, it was only the nephew who was in Sydney, so I didn't see too many of the niece's productions at their school in Canberra. And I don't have kids of my own, and I'm not a teacher any more—so what was I doing at a high school drama performance?
It was, of course, related to the day job, but this is in fact a school that, curiously, I have a strange kind of long-standing connection with.
More than ten years ago, when I was working on the Nestlé Write Around Australia program at the State Library of NSW, I got my dander up one day reading yet another tribute to private schools in the Sydney Morning Herald. This time, they reported on the end of year speech given by the principal of some posh eastern suburbs or north shore or wherever the hell it was school. Truly. The principal's speech given at the speech night. Featured news. But only if it's a private school. So I took up my pen (actually, that's sheer rhetoric; I wrote it on a computer of course) and wrote a letter to the editor that went something like this:
I look forward to the day that the end of year speech made by the principal of Rooty Hill High School is front page news in the Herald.
They published it.
The next day, the principal of Rooty Hill High School, Christine Cawsey, also had a letter published in the paper, thanking me and saying she'd be delighted to supply said speech any time the Herald cared to run it.
I was horrified, because to be honest, I wasn't even 100% sure when I wrote the letter that there WAS a Rooty Hill High School. I chose the name because Rooty Hill is such an iconic western Sydney suburb and I just knew that it would have the right resonance for the point I was trying to get make. But when Chris's letter was published, I was mostly just worried I'd inadvertently offended her, and the school and the students.
So I rang her. And she laughed and said nothing could be further from the truth. What had happened was some of the school's senior students had read my letter (extraordinary enough, because as we know, kids don't read any more, especially not newspapers and especially not kids from a suburb like Rooty Hill and even if by chance they did it would especially not be the Sydney Morning Herald*) and rushed into her office saying, Ms Cawsey! Ms Cawsey! Is your speech going to be in the paper? and so alerted her to it (because school principal really DON'T have time to read the newspaper, especially not the letters page, although knowing Chris as I now do a little, I bet she would have got to it eventually). And so she wrote her response.
And we laughed more about the whole stupidity of the media's bias towards public schools and how we'd, together, struck a blow against it, and that was that.
I heard or read Chris's name often enough over the years—she's been president of the public schools' principal association and was and is often asked to comment on a variety of issues to do with (public) education, on the radio, in the papers—but as far as my personal association with the school went, that was kind of it.
Until I started in the Day Job.
I don't write about the day job all that much on this blog. It's tricky—writing about work is always tricky, for any blogger, but made particularly so by the fact that WestWords (aka The Western Sydney Young People's Literature Project—like our fancy new nam
I'm writing this on a Mac.
Pretty much everything of value I've ever written, I wrote on a Mac. Book reviews, articles, blog posts, aborted attempts at novels and short stories and picture books—written on a Mac. A book proposal I'm currently working on. My Masters thesis: perhaps the hardest, certainly the longest thing I've ever written, written on a Mac. (This Mac, in fact.)
All the rubbish I've written, too—Made on a Mac. All the hours in chat rooms and on Facebook and Twitter, reading blogs, searching for links for this blog, uploading photos and downloading videos—all on a Mac. Reading the news. Reading gossip. Emailing friends all over the world, sharing ideas and arguing about books and education and politics and love and family and all the things that matter to me most. All on a Mac.
I've used PCs as well—several times over the years in the course of work, and I've always tried not to be too much of a Mac bore (although I have always appreciated that joke: What can a PC user do that a Mac user can't? Shut up.) but your first love stays with you and my first, and I'm guessing last love, as far as technology goes, is the Apple Macintosh.
I learnt how to use a computer on what may have been a Mac Plus in an empty classroom at
Lurnea High School, where I mocked up worksheets and quizzes using what
must have been the most basic, original Clip Art library.
And yes, look, packrat that I am, I still have one of those early Mac-generated documents...
I'm not so
good on remembering model names of Macs (although with John Birmingham's
#myapplehistory hashtag trending on Twitter, maybe I need to go and do
some research...), but it was one of those small, boxy early models
where you had to eject the floppy disk that contained the software in
order to insert the floppy disk to save your work. Tell the young folk that
today... (I guess it was an Apple II—this was 1987.)
The first Mac I owned—or co-owned—was a similar early model, although perhaps by then it had an internal memory drive. This would have been around 1991, when I was a newly-wed, because I remember it was the recipient of my first attempts at my MA thesis, and I can picture its spot in the flat on the top of the house in Gladesville perfectly, just as I recall writing essays for the MA coursework by longhand in the bedsit downstairs in the same house. Somewhere I still have printouts from those early thesis drafts (the topic was temporality and the young hero in Diana Wynne Jones's Time of the Ghost, A Tale of Time City and the Chrestomanci novels) and they were on tractor paper. (Remember those bastard printers, how they always misfed?)
I don't remember buying that Mac, but I do remember buying the next one. By that time, Voldemort and I were in our lovely semi in Marrickville, and his elder brother was working for Apple, and we managed to get a new model—the LC 520—at a staff discount. I recall that, for the time, it had pretty much all the bells and whistles you could hope for, and also that my ownership of it was almost as shortlived as my marriage. (Voldemort, in a spectacular display of entitlement, took the computer with him when he went, despite the fact that I was no longer teaching full-time and was trying to build a freelance writing career as well as finish my MA. What's that old expression about leaving the world as you entered it...? )
My goodreads review:
by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Disclaimer—Marie-Louise is a dear friend and one of the loveliest people I know. She's been a picture book artist and writer for many years, and this is her first junior novel. I'm not even going to pretend to be unbiased—I loved this book and read it in one sitting on a rainy Sunday afternoon with my cats playing tag-team on my lap and a couple of small squares of home-made chocolate fudge to hand. Perfect reading conditions, in other words.
But friendship and personal admiration aside, I really did love this book. It's a classic adventure novel, with ghosts and a type of time travel, but also with a slightly darker contemporary edge. Set in the old mill building where Marie-Louise had her artist's studio for many years, it's the story of 12 year old Jessie, recently moved to Dublin after the death of her father, who stumbles across a bead factory with her dress-designer/maker mother. The bead factory turns out to be a front for a couple of private detectives, who are actually investigating paranormal activity in the building in the shape of a mysterious portal at the top of four steps that lead to a brick wall—and a couple of ghosts.
One of these ghosts is the enormous Greenwood, who was hanged on the site of the building in 1201 and has been trying ever since to solve the riddle of the Timecatcher (a kind of vortex behind the portal where time past continues on), which he accidentally opened before his death.
The other ghost is that of G, a boy about Jessie's age, who died in an accident in the abandoned mill building some forgotten years earlier. G can't remember who he was, which he puts down to the head injury sustained in the accident. G quite likes being a ghost, but is frustrated by his inability to leave the confines of the mill, and remains angry with the friends who left him to die.
Add to the mix the evil spirit of a man hanged alongside Greenwood who is determined to re-enter the Timecatcher and steal the source of its power, chuck in a bit of Viking mythology, a great big whack of Irish history, all in the hands of a writer with great control over her narrative (voice and rather complicated plot) and you end up with a terrifically fast-paced but also intellectually challenging plot for smart kid readers (and others). Enjoy. And think of my friend M-L!
View all my reviews
Hey, here's an amazing opportunity! Phillip Gwynne
, multi-award winning author of books for children, teens and adults, has moved to Bali with his young family. (Don't be Facebook friends with him—the photos will have you pea-green with envy.) Phillip is offering one-on-one writing mentoring for serious writers who like the idea of getting away and concentrating on their work in a seriously beautiful place.
Phillip's calling it Wrestling with Crocs and here's everything you need to know. Contact information at the end. Have fun!
With Crocs is not a workshop, it is not a place to explore your
feelings in a group setting with writers at various stages in the
process. This is concentrated, intense one-on-one time with a published
and acclaimed author.
It’s about getting your work to the stage where no editor can put it down. It’s about getting published yourself.
a professional writer himself, Phillip takes a hard-nosed attitude to
his craft. To him writing is about getting words down on the page, and
then redrafting, redrafting and more redrafting.
with Crocs, Phillip will be present to mentor, to inspire, to edit and
to advise, making himself available to guests each morning and each
evening and with follow-up communication after departure. He will be
tough, but honest, in his appraisal of your work. It’s constructive
criticism that moves a work forward not kind words from well-meaning
Throughout the retreat guests will be accommodated at
Villa Kacang, an ideal location for writers, providing a tranquil space
in a lush tropical surrounding whilst also being in walking distance to
great cafes. As you sit at your desk, wrestling with crocs, it is with
the knowledge that just over the wall there is somebody else doing
exactly the same thing.
If you seriously want to write then work with a serious writer. In a seriously beautiful place.
What Are The Costs?
$1280 for a 7 day retreat.
What Does the 7 day Wrestling with Crocs Retreat Include?
days intensive writing workshops mentored by Phillip Gwynne including a
daily intense morning and evening session of approximately an hour
each. Plus follow up communication via email or phone should you
require. If the work is at a stage where it can be shown to publishers
Phillip will put you in touch with the right people.
2 free days for sightseeing, shopping, day spa, surfing, yoga, or relaxation.
at Villa Kacang, an inspiring and tranquil villa ideally suited for
writing. (Though the villa has 2 bedrooms and can accommodate extra
guests, it’s important to remember that this is a rigorous writing
program so distractions should be kept to a minimum in order to benefit
fully from the workshop).
Daily continental breakfast delivered to the Villa.
Optional delicious lunch and dinners to be delivered to the Villa at an extra cost of $20 USD per day.
transfers. The workshop does not include airfares however we look
forward to picking you up from the airport and taking you back again for
your return flight.
What Do I Need To Do Before arrival?
Email your idea/synopsis/manuscript to Phillip Gwynne so that the workshop process can begin immediately upon your arriva
Only Ever Always by Penni Russon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I loved Penni Russon's mysterious, elliptical novel of place, dreams, grief and identity. I was going to add time to that list, but that's not strictly accurate—it's not a time slip novel at all, although it feels very much like one, and reminds me of books like Charlotte Sometimes and even somehow Jill Paton Walsh's Goldengrove Unleaving. (The latter, I think, largely somehow in a shared mood or tone, as well as the non-straightforward narrative, of which, it must be said, I am a fan. It might also have something to do with the melancholia in fairy tales that Penni refers to in her author's note.) I also reckon fans of Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy would find much to be challenged and intrigued by in Only Ever Always—there are echoes of Lyra-like characterisation in Clara in particular. And from there we can also draw a line to 19th century literature, in the somewhat Dickensian overtones to Clara's world (has there ever been a more over-used word in book reviews than Dickensian?!) and the narrative courage of the great Victorian novelists.
There's a lot to say about Penni's narrative choices in Only Ever Always—in particular, the use of the second person narrative voice in certain sections of the novel, which somehow seems to draw in and implicate the reader as a participant, as a third version of Claire/Clara—but that might be best left to my teaching (and personal ruminations). What can I say, I'm a narratology geek (although not as big a one as I'd like!).
With parallel stories, worlds and characters, this is not a novel for a casual reader—it requires close attention, not just from the intellect, but from the heart. It's a book where not having all the answers is the most satisfying and in fact only conclusion—because life isn't always neat and tidy, and open endings suggest adventure and the great wonder of uncertainty—for the brave. If that sounds like a book for you— as it is a book for me—then I whole-heartedly commend Only Ever Always to you.
View all my reviews
No, no, no, not THAT ABBA—my favourite band of the 70s (one day I will share my ABBA scrapbook with you all). No, the lovely UK writers (will you just check out that list!) who collectively blog at ABBA—An Awfully Big Blog Adventure are holding an online literary festival at the ABBA blog. Hooray!
Now, what is an online literary festival, I hear you ask. Well, to be honest, I'm not entirely sure—at least, I wasn't when I first heard about it on Facebook and Twitter. But as I've checked it out, it appears that, over 2 days this weekend (UK time), a series of blog posts from a huge range of writers will appear every half hour or so. If you go here, you can see the line-up: and if you're like me, you'll be squealing with pleasure at the wonderful names that are there. Adele Geras! Hilary McKay! Malachy Doyle! Mary Hoffman! Susan Price! and so many many others.
I am also reliably informed that there will be:
- Amazing Blogs!
- Stunning Videos!
- Exciting Giveaways!
- Fascinating Interviews!
- Mind-Boggling Competitions!
So check it out. Follow it on Twitter (hashtag #ABBAlitfest) or subscribe via your preferred RSS reader. It should be brilliant fun.
Garn the poms!
I attended a talk by Valerie Lawson, biographer of PL Travers at the State Library of NSW tonight. Valerie and one of the Library's curators, Emma Gray, who put together a Mary Poppins exhibition at the library a couple of years ago, spoke about Travers' archive, held by the Mitchell Library, and a good selection of items from the collection were on display for us to look at. These included type-written notes by Travers about the script of the Disney film of Mary Poppins (which she hated), a letter from Julie Andrews during the making of the film, and a range of letters from children and people like Ted Hughes about the books. There were various editions of Travers' books (not just Poppins books, but also a copy of a children's novel called I Go By Sea, I Go By Land, which I'd really like to read), photographs and memorabilia of the film, including the program from the '65 Oscars and a program from the UK premiere which was 100% ads! (Apart from a photograph of Princess Margaret.) So some things don't change.
The talk was interesting, although I knew a fair bit of the Travers story, but it was a real treat to see the archives. These are available for the public to access, by the way, as are all the items held at the Mitchell. And I forgot to take my copy of Lawson's book (originally titled Out of the Sky She Came, the new edition is called Mary Poppins, She Wrote) and Valerie kindly offered to sign it if I send it to her, which I will do.
An added treat to the night was I at last got to meet Matthew Finch, who I've been corresponding with for a while. I'm not sure how to best sum up Matthew—he's been an academic, primary school teacher and is a writer with a steady stream of freelance from work. Matthew has a particular interest in creativity in education and is on a self-funded tour around the world to check out innovative programs in and out of schools. Matthew got in touch with me when he read a post I wrote about Patricia Wrightson after her death last year, and then to ask me more about the Paint the Town Read early literacy strategy I'm involved with in the Day Job. He's specifically here to check out Paint the Town Read, which he tells me is a world-leader in its whole-of-community approach to early literacy. He was at the Paint the Town Read reading day at Auburn last week and was totally blown away by it. Matthew's taught in areas of London with a similar demographic to Auburn and he was deeply impressed at the way parents and community members, such as the proprietor of the local Michele's cafe, were engaged with the project. He's off to Parkes next week, where Paint the Town Read began, to speak to Rhonda Brain, the project's creator, and the PTTR team out there.
There's not actually a central website for Paint the Town Read, so I'll link to the Blue Mountains version, Paint the Blue Read.
Matthew and I headed out after the Travers session and found a caf
I first used this phrase in my blog post about this year's Sydney Writers' Festival in context of the panel I chaired on the young adult/adult cross-over novel that was, rather ironically I thought, called "When is a children's book not a children's book" (ironic, because it wasn't about children's books at all). This is what I wrote:
given the title, I also brought in the question of Whither the
Children's Book in a world when YA and the cross-over gets all the
but to be honest, we didn't really answer the question. I think, from memory, we all kind of agreed that children's books don't get much attention and then moved on to questions.
Because not a lot seems to be about the children's book, these days. The children's novel, to be precise. YA gets vastly more of the blog space, media attention and arguably, reviews—although the picture book probably gets a fair bit of review space as well (and Shaun Tan's done a hell of a lot to make the picture book an acceptable topic of conversation in adult society). And increasingly, I've noticed that when a children's novel does get critical attention, it's suddenly claimed as being young adult.
It happened to The Graveyard Book. It happened to When You Reach Me. And these are both classics examples of children's literature, as far as I am concerned. I've argued the toss on this online and elsewhere, especially about The Graveyard Book, which people seem to want to claim as YA primarily, I think, because it deals with death and because of the extremely scary opening scene where the family is murdered (oh shut up, that's not a spoiler). My argument about The Graveyard Book is this: it ends at the point where most YA takes up: Bod has to leave the graveyard to find his agency, and we don't get to see that process. The rest of the novel—Bod finding who he is in the context of the only family he knows, through adventures that are often perilous, coupled with the exploration of friendship—is the classic stuff of the children's novel.
The claim for When You Reach Me as YA puzzles me even more. Thematically, it shares nothing in common with the typical YA novel, but is firmly in the tradition of the great children's novels—Harriet the Spy, A Wrinkle in Time. Andre Norton's Octagon Magic springs to mind for some reason. I'm also thinking of The Game of the Goose and the lesser known The Games Board Map—children's novels with a puzzle to be solved at the heart. There's no subtext of the achieving of subjectivity, such a classic feature of the YA novel. These are all novels about children, with the concerns of children at their heart—friendship and family and belonging and home.
(For the record, I had a conversation about this with Rebecca Stead at Reading Matters last month, and she is firmly of the opinion that she writes children's novels—and she says the letters she gets from her readers bears this out. So there.)
The only thing I can put the claim for such books to be YA down to is this—that they are books that are literary, meta-textual, substantial books full of ideas and complex plotting. They'
I caught up with my one-time student Roberta Lowing during Sydney Writers' Festival, where she was on the program to talk about her first novel, Notorious, published by Allen and Unwin late last year. Roberta was in a class I taught in writing for children and young adults in the MA in creative writing at the University of Sydney about 8 years ago now, I guess. I've bumped into Roberta and several other students from that class over the years, but I hadn't seen her for a while and hadn't caught up with the news of her novel.
So imagine how thrilled I was to discover that Notorious was shortlisted for the Prime Minister's Literary Awards! I haven't had the chance to read the book yet—it's longish, and looks like it needs some serious time to concentrate on it, and most of my reading is done in shortish bursts these days. Congratulations Roberta! It's such exciting news. And Roberta tells me she's planning on going back to her children's novel next, which pleases me very much!
And of course, which reminds me that I didn't blog the announcement of the shortlists for the children's and young adult books either. I have friends on these lists, which is wonderful of course, but they are both also just really strong, interesting lists, and while I have my personal favourites, I think any of them would be most worthy of the top gong. And the good news, of course, is that the $100,00 prize money is being shared around the shortlistees. So heartiest congratulations to the following—the winners are announced early July.
There's been a lot of talk over the years about the quality of critical thinking and reviewing in yer average book blog—concerns that I've shared at times. It's not so much the fangirl stuff that bothers me—overt expressions of enthusiasm are either irritating or delightful, I find—but more just plain bad reviewing. Like all of us, I have over the years read some outrageously uninformed reviews, where the blogger has revealed more about their own cultural ignorance than they've realised. I've read mean-spirited and nasty reviews, where the blogger has apparently taken great joy in demolishing a book and made it personal. I've made condescending reviews where all kinds of assumptions have been made about the writer and their motivations. And I've read plenty of just badly written, dull reviews that reveal nothing about the actual quality of the work.
I always put it down to the fact that yer average book blogger has never gone through any kind of editorial apprenticeship. They've never had to submit work to an editor in order to publish in the first place. They've never had their work edited even for house style, much less for content, tone, accuracy. And so they've never had any opportunity to learn from experienced reviewers the standards of critical writing: don't retell the plot; don't give away significant plot points (although to be fair, in the world of the intertubes, bloggers are pretty spoiler-savvy); "play the ball and not the man", ie, DON'T MAKE IT PERSONAL.
There's nothing new in any of that—if anything, if this blog post were just about book-blogging, I'd be about five years out of date anyway, although I still think a lot of these points remain salient. But hopefully most of us now read book review blogs with a pinch of salt and an understanding that they're not professional reviews—and at least they're not as bad as your average Amazon customer review...
But if bad reviewing were the domain of the amateur blogger—what are we to make of this?
That link takes you to a review of Leslie Cannold's first novel, The Book of Rachael. The review is written by Theo Chapman. I don't know who he is; I don't recall seeing that byline before, but the trusty intertubes tells me (via LinkedIn) that he is a sub-editor, journalism lecturer and book reviewer for the Sun-Herald.
If you don't know anything about the book, it is a novel imagining the life of Jesus's sister, who Cannold calls Rachael. Cannold was inspired to write the novel after she found that while the names and other details of Jesus's brothers were recorded, there was absolutely no trace of any of his sisters—it was, as she explains in this interview, a shock for her to realise how completely they'd been forgotten. (I was surprised she was surprised, actually!) In the novel—and yes, this post will be full of spoilers, but honestly, if you don't know how the story of Jesus turns out...! Anyway, in the novel, Jesus, named Joshua, is in love with the woman known to history as Mary Magdalene—they are in fact lovers, although not married. Rachael, some years Joshua's younger, is rebellious, fractious and challenging from early childhood. At 15, she falls passionately in love with Joshua's best friend, the soldier Judah Iscariot, who has been away fighting to Roman occupation, and they are married soon after.
There is another sister, Shona, who is raped and then forced, under
Hebrew law, to marry her rapist, who takes her away from her family and
Brought to you by the fab gals (and guy?) at Alien Onion.
Just a quick note to say I have again updated the Remembering Diana blog post with some new tributes to Diana Wynne Jones.
They snuck up on me this year! I always have in my head that the shortlists are announced around Easter, but as I'm not actually even sure when Easter is this year, I suppose I am just mostly entirely out of the loop.
I had a flex day from work today, and was looking forward to an internet and email-free day spent with my boys and my books (by which I mean books that I want to read* rather than books that I have to read**, although there is a huge cross over in that particular Venn diagram...). But internet junky that I am, I couldn't help just checking in on Facebook and Twitter, only to discover that today was the day—and not only that, that the Notables were going up a good couple of hours before the shortlist announcement. So that kind of disrupted my work-free day, because with a job like mine, any time stuff comes up that's kids' book-related, it's always kind of work. (There's that Venn Diagram again.)
So then the Notables went up. (Not sure when exactly—maybe 10ish Sydney time? Wasn't wearing a watch. Flex day, remember?) And my first reaction was what a strong list it was, across all the five categories. (You can read it here—far too long to post.) Many of the titles in the older readers list were books I'd read for the NSW Premier's Awards (not all as there are different pub dates for eligibility for the two awards) and so I can attest to the strength of the Notables in this category in particular.
But then that also made me realise that two books that we in fact shortlisted—Belinda Jeffrey's Big River Little Fish and Kirsty Eagar's Saltwater Vampires—didn't even make the Notables. Now, I'm not suggesting for a moment that all awards should have huge cross-over on their lists—on the contrary, the great thing I think about the various state awards is that they do throw up titles that often get overlooked elsewhere. By which I guess I mean reviews and the CBC list, which is, after all, the main game for children's and YA books in this country. I'm cool with the differences between our shortlists (although damn I wish my dear friend Cassandra Golds's The Three Loves of Persimmon had made it past the Notables!***) but I really cannot understand why year after year some of what I consider to be the finest and most interesting books don't even get a Notables nod. And that's two out of two misses for Belinda and Kirsty—writers who I know are held in the highest regard in the broader YA community. Perhaps there's a limit to how many books they list—but it doesn't look like it, if you compare this year's long Older Readers Notables list to last year's paltry 16 (or was that the year before? I think it was last year). So I guess we should be grateful it's as long and as comprehensive as it is. It is a good longlist—I just feel desperately sorry that some really good writers seem to get consistently overlooked.
The Younger Readers notables list is also very healthy, but I still think there's not as many longer novels being recognised for this age group. I often feel like they fall through the cracks, and I wonder where books by the likes of Patricia Wrightson or Lilith Norman or Ivan Southall would end up these days.
But look, I don't mean to be too hard on the awards, because I think these are really strong Notable and Shortlists—and look, I haven't even really got to the Shortlists yet! I guess I think they are a really good representation of what was a bit of a corker year on Australian's children's and YA publishing. And knowing that the majority of the really extraordinary YA books from last year were by women (sorry chaps—some good s
There's been so many articles and blog posts about Diana Wynne Jones in the week since her death—more, I think, than I can remember for any other author. And I've read so many people say, on places like Facebook and in the comments to obituaries and In Memoriams, "Oh, I've never heard of this author before, but now I want to read her". And so in the way of these things, a whole new generation (and by that I don't mean age) of Diana Wynne Jones fans is about to be born.
And so, as we all knew, her legacy will live on through her books. But I had a conversation with a friend last night, who, enquiring how I was in the wake of Diana's death (a few people have done that, it's been very touching), said something very beautiful to me. Neil had read my blog (I assume!), or anyway, he knows the story of why Diana means so much to me, and her influence on, and he said to me last night that she will live on, not simply through her books, although certainly that, but through the line of writers that will follow in her wake precisely because of the influence her work had on people like me, who in turn, and as a result, are helping new writers grow. That's kind of a clumsy way of putting it—Neil is much more adept than me at Plain English—but it was such a wonderful way of thinking about Diana's heritage-to-come that I wanted to share it.
Anyway, I've decided to try and aggregate as many of the online media, blogs and other tributes to Diana I can find. Someone wondered out loud on the Diana Wynne Jones listserve if anyone was somehow collecting the vast amount of words that have been said about her this past week, and so I offered. I'll keep adding to this as I find new material, so please fell free to send me any links and I'll add to it. And I've also been given permission to post some of the emails sent to the listserve. Feel free to use the comments to add your own tribute if you feel so moved.
Newspapers and magazines:
The Guardian Obituary
The Wild Magic of Diana Wynne Jones by Alison Flood (from The Guardian)
An appreciation from The Guardian from its Book Blog.
The Telegraph (UK) Obit
And also from the Telegraph, this article: Diana Wynne Jones: a wizard writer whose young life was far from magical
Charlie Butler's obituary in The Independent (and he is not responsible for the headline!)
New York Times
This is the paper I gave at Diana Wynne Jone: A Conference, in at the University of the West of England, Bristol, July 2009. It's a mix of personal anecdote and analysis of English fantasy and Australian children's fiction of the 60s and 70s. But mostly it was, and is, my heartfelt thanks and tribute to Diana Wynne Jones and everything she and her books have meant to me. (I had a bit of trouble with the formatting, bringing this over from Word, so apologies for the funny spacing etc.)
From Alice to Aiken in the
An Australian Childhood spent in
How Diana Wynne Jones Changed My
I’d like to begin by explaining that this paper is not as perhaps as Diana Wynne
Jones-focused as most of the papers you have heard this weekend, which I am
sure is probably clear to you from the title and my abstract. It is, as you
might have guessed, something of a perambulation through my childhood reading,
which in fact did not include Diana’s books at all—nor Joan Aiken’s for that
matter, as far as I can remember, although her name was certainly familiar to
me and I have read and forgotten far more books as a child than my poor old 45
year old brain can recall. You’ll have to forgive me that small fib in my paper
title—I liked the assonance too much. On hindsight, it could have been from
Alice to Uttley, as Uttley’s A Traveller in Time, while not a fantasy of the sort
I’ll be mostly addressing tod
OK, here we go. As I mentioned in my last blog post, I am taking a riff off this article by Susan Wyndham in this week's summer Sydney Morning Herald. The idea is to list, in Susan's words:
''15 Australian books - and some extra suggestions - that every
Australian can enjoy if they want to understand our literature, our
country and ourselves''. Culture is a conversation and knowing these
books enables us to talk to each other."
I am preparing 3 lists of 15 books: picture books, children's books and young adult books. Like Susan, my emphasis is on fiction, but there will be some non-fiction books as well. There's no poetry to speak of. And like Susan, I consulted friends and colleagues and my personal reference library (particularly The Dromkeen Book of Australian Children's Illustrators for the picture book list and Maurice Saxby's 3 volume history). However, the final decisions are my own. I'm looking forward to the discussion that may follow.
Remember—these are not lists of the best, or best-selling, or most beloved or even most highly awarded books. They are not a survey of the most important or Best-Beloved authors and illustrators, although I anticipate that many of them will make an appearance. It is a list that, if you read them all, would go some way towards an understanding of, in addition to what Susan has noted, the preoccupations Australian children's literature, and what those preoccupations say about Australian childhood and adolescence (or perhaps our adult perceptions of and ideas about Australian childhood and adolescence). The books are organised chronologically.
The final things to say was that this was an extremely difficult task. Here is the picture book list: the children's and YA lists are still to come (because I am still working on them!). Have at me!
(Also—please note. This is a very long post!)
15 Australian Picture Books Everyone Should Read
1. Karrawingi the Emu by Leslie Rees and Walter Cunningham (ill) (1946)
This book was the winner of the first Children's Book Council Book of the Year awards, and so is worth kicking off this list for that reason alone, but it is an early example of our interest in indigenous animals as a subject for children's books—especially picture books. (As we'll see, this interest persists to the present day.) Karrawingi is just one of around a dozen of these nature stories by Rees and illustrated mostly by Cunningham (with some other significant illustrators such as Margaret Senior also involved in the series). The books use fictional techniques to tell stories of Australian animals who are characterised but not anthropomorphised—they remain true to their animal nature, and the stories were carefully researched, as their purpose was as much to educate as to entertain. These days we'd classify it more as an illustrated chapter book than a picture book, but putting it in the picture book list is an opportunity to recognise the importance of the creators of these books to Australian children's literature, writer Leslie Rees and especially illustrator Walter Cunningham. Jeffrey Prentice credits Cunningham for changing the format of the Australian children's picture book. Walter Cunningham was also an art teacher, and married one of his students, Noela Young
Yes, folks, still whittling away at the 15 children's and young adult lists. Be patient. These things can't be rushed—especially when you have to make up for some gaps in your reading by spending money on AbeBooks:
In the meantime, the American Library Association awards were announced yesterday at the San Diego Mid Winter Meeting. I always find it incredibly difficult to find a straightforward link to the many awards made by the ALA (although here's the press release), the better-known of which are the Newbery (children's), Caldecott (picture book) and Printz (young adult) medals, but also the Pura Belpré and the Coretta Scott King Book Awards medals for (respectively) Latina/Latino authors and African-American authors.
Despite my inability to adequately link, I did manage to note that two honorary Aussie authors were in amongst those awards somewhere: Lucy Christopher's Stolen is a Printz Honour Award-winner, and Karen Healey's Guardian of the Dead is an honour book in the William C. Morris Award for a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens.
Lucy is a part-time Aussie, born in the UK, raised here, now living again in the UK, and Karen is NZ born but lives here—so that's good enough for us!
And I don't mean to be all parochial on these things, but it is always nice to see our authors recognised on the international stage. And on that, may I also mention that Melina Marchetta's Finnikin of the Rock was in the last couple of days voted the winner of the annual adbooks listserve JHunt YA award. (Woah—what a mouthful!) The JHunt has been going for nearly ten years and is voted on by members of the adbooks listserve, who are by-and-large teachers, librarians and writers.
Now, back to those 15 books... (x 2!)
The CAL NSW Premier’s Western Sydney Writers’ Fellowships are offering
Three Fellowships of $7,000.
The Fellowships are open to
writers at all stages of writing practice and experience, including emerging or
established writers. Writers working
in genres including fiction, non-fiction, journalism, poetry and song lyrics,
writing for performance, writing for online or new media and other forms of
creative writing, are welcome to apply. Illustrators and graphic designers with
a demonstrated interest in narrative through visual media may also apply.
This is a new initiative of the Copyright Agency Limited in partnership
with the Western Sydney Young People’s Literature Project.
There are two parts to each Fellowship:
1. Development of your work as a writer
2. Working with young people in Western Sydney
Applications are welcome from writers across Australia, however, a final
decision on non-NSW-based applicants may be dependent upon the availability of
funding to cover travel and accommodation. The successful applicants will be
required to work with young people in Western Sydney as part of the
requirements of the Fellowship.
One of the three Fellowships will be reserved for an applicant under the age of
30 provided the applicant also meets the other criteria at a high level.
Special consideration will be given to applicants from Western Sydney who meet
the general selection criteria at a high level.
For more information or to request guidelines and an application form, please contact:
Project Officer, Western Sydney Young People’s Literature Officer
T: 02 9839 6079
*that would be me.
As you may know, I was on the judging panel of the Ethel Turner Prize in the 2011 NSW Premier's Literary Awards. The shortlists were announced today—alas, no awards event, as is usually the case, as we're only two weeks out from a state election. A pity—the shortlist announcements are always fun. Oh well.
Anyway, here, in case you haven't already seen them, are the shortlists for the Ethel Turner and Patricia Wrightson Prizes:
Ethel Turner Prize for Young People's Literature
The Ethel Turner Prize ($30,000), named in honour of the acclaimed author of the children's classic Seven Little Australians, is offered for a work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry written for young people of secondary school level.
2011 shortlisted writers are...
Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children's Literature
The Patricia Wrightson Prize ($30,000) is offered for a work of
fiction, non-fiction or poetry written for children up to secondary
The prize is named in honour of children’s author
Patricia Wrightson, whose books have won many prestigious awards world -
wide including the Hans Christian Andersen Medal (1986) for The Nargun and the Stars.
2011 shortlisted writers are...
Apparently, I have been given a "One Lovely Blog" award by a reader. I don't really know who this reader is, but they have a genealogy blog and are apparently a regular Misrule reader. Well, as regular as anyone can be, given how sporadic my blogging has been lately. (Yes, I am still thinking about my 15 books lists—sigh. Premier's Lit Award reading got in the way and I guess I I have lost a bit of momentum.) So thanks, family history reader! And I'll try and do better in the regular posting stakes.
The Aurealis Awards are Australia's spec fiction awards, and the shortlists have been announced today. I've copied the lists of most interest to the children's and YA community, and the rest of the list is up at the website (you need to download a pdf). Turns out I know quite a lot of the non-kids/youth shortlisted writers from Twitter and Facebook! Cool! Congratulations to all the shortlistees. The awards are announced in Sydney on May 21 (during Sydney Writers' Festival, alas for me—don't think I'll be able to make it.)
CHILDREN'S FICTION (told primarily through words)
Grimsdon, Deborah Abela, Random House
Ranger's Apprentice #9: Halt's Peril, John Flanagan, Random House
The Vulture of Sommerset, Stephen M Giles, Pan Macmillan
The Keepers, Lian Tanner, Allen & Unwin
Haggis MacGregor and the Night of the Skull, Jen Storer & Gug Gordon, Aussie Nibbles (Penguin)
CHILDREN'S FICTION (told primarily through pictures)
Night School, Isobelle Carmody (writer) & Anne Spudvilas (illustrator), Penguin Viking
Magpie, Luke Davies (writer) & Inari Kiuru (illustrator), ABC Books (HarperCollins)
The Boy and the Toy, Sonya Hartnett (writer) & Lucia Masciullo (illustrator), Penguin Viking
Precious Little, Julie Hunt & Sue Moss (writers) & Gaye Chapman (illustrator), Allen & Unwin
The Cloudchasers, David Richardson (writer) & Steven Hunt (illustrator), ABC Books (HarperCollins)
YOUNG ADULT Short Story
'Inksucker', Aidan Doyle, Worlds Next Door, Fablecroft Publishing
'One Story, No Refunds', Dirk Flinthart, Shiny #6, Twelfth Planet Press
'A Thousand Flowers', Margo Lanagan, Zombies Vs Unicorns, Allen & Unwin
'Nine Times', Kaia Landelius & Tansy Rayner Roberts, Worlds Next Door, Fablecroft Publishing
'An Ordinary Boy', Jen White, The Tangled Bank, Tangled Bank Press
YOUNG ADULT Novel
Merrow, Ananda Braxton-‐Smith, Black Dog Books
Guardian of the Dead, Karen Healey, Allen & Unwin
The Midnight Zoo, Sonya Hartnett, Penguin
The Life of a Teenage Body-Snatcher, Doug MacLeod, Penguin
Behemoth (Leviathan Trilogy Book Two), Scott Westerfeld, Penguin
BEST ILLUSTRATED BOOK/GRAPHIC NOVEL
Shakespeare's Hamlet, Nicki Greenberg, Allen & Unwin
EEEK!: Weird Australian Tales of Suspense, Jason Paulos et al, Black House Comics
Changing Ways Book 1, Justin Randall, Gestalt Publishing
Five Wounds: An Illustrated Novel, Jonathan Walker & Dan Hallett, Allen & Unwin
Horrors: Great Stories of Fear and Their Creators, Rocky Wood & Glenn Chadbourne, McFarlane & Co.
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As many of you will have heard, Diana Wynne Jones died yesterday. Although Diana's death was not unexpected—she was diagnosed with lung cancer two years ago—it has nevertheless come as a great shock, and a great sadness, to her legions of fans. Not least of all me.
My great love and admiration for Diana and her work is well known, I think, and I have found myself deeply upset by the news of her death in ways I hadn't anticipated. I have been thinking about her and her family and the people I know who knew and loved her—Charlie and Farah and Sharyn especially—all day today. And remembering the time I spent with her on her one trip to Sydney, more than 20 years ago now. I was so privileged to introduce her to an audience of fans at the State Library of NSW, when I was so young and really, knew so little about anything to do with writing, and to spend an evening over dinner with her at the Sydney Theatre Company restaurant, where I recorded our conversation, which became my first published author interview.
Somewhere I have a letter from her, which I will always treasure, and a more recent email, after I sent her a package of books by Australian writer friends who are fans and admirers, send to help her through the long and difficult periods of treatment and recuperation. And the tapes from that interview, which I imagine I should donate to the archive at Seven Stories Centre for the Children's Book—maybe before I do I'll listen to those tapes and hear her voice and that wonderful, rich laugh.
There will be much written about Diana and her work in the coming weeks. One of my Facebook friends noted that Diana "knew flowers and cats better than any writer I've ever encountered"—and I would add to that children. She has always written about children with a great sense of and respect for their dignity and capability, even while she understood how difficult it can sometimes be to be a child in a world controlled by adults who sometimes put their own interests and vanities first.
I hope and trust that she will be given the due recognition for her genius and her deep understanding of human beings in all their complexity.
And let's not forget how funny she was.
I've often said that Diana changed my life, and I have never, ever meant that in any way flippantly or without the deepest sense of sincerity and gratitude. I've told the story many times, most recently at the conference held in her honour in 2009. I've been meaning since then to make the final changes I made by hand in my little university student bedroom at the conference to the electronic version of the paper I gave, and I'm going to do that at last and upload the paper here. So if you haven't heard the story, you'll just have to wait a day or two longer.
Godspeed, Diana, and thank you for all the spells—
We are all in your debt.